If there's one establishment every American has a deep appreciation for when it's most needed, it's the 24-hour diner. Whether we head to a nearby Denny's ($DENN), IHop ($DIN), or Waffle House ($PRIVATE:WAFFLEHOUSE) at 3:00 am for a late-night study session, a hangover salve, or an early pre-flight breakfast, the 24-hour diner chain is as important an institution as they come.

Sure, there are plenty of independent diners and smaller chains that deliver a local feel, but sometimes Denny's is the only option. Or IHop. Or Waffle House.

Presented here are a series of maps that show how America's 24-hour diners compare when it comes to geographical distribution. It represents 5,471 restaurants: 1,949 Waffle Houses, 1,733 Dennys', and 1,789 IHOP's. Quick note: The numbers of restaurants may vary slightly as they chains open and close stores regularly, but these areas up to date as possible based on the chains' own location-finder websites.

The first thing one notices is Waffle House's concentration in the south-eastern United States (but a zoom-in will reveal an almost-equal IHOP presence). On the East Coast, most notable in the tri-state area, IHOP outnumbers Denny's. Meanwhile, Denny's outlay, at least outside of heavily populated areas, traces America's interstate routes.

Georgia-headquartered Waffle House consists of 2,100 locations and is, to many Americans, a cultural icon. It's still privately owned as a franchise business, and the company recently (2007) repurchased the original restaurant that had become a Chinese Restaurant in Avondale Estates, Georgia.

In the southwestern United States, we see that Waffle House goes no futher west than Phoenix, Arizona, where late-night diners have a surprisingly diverse set of 24-hour dining options. In car-dependent Los Angeles, both Denny's and IHOP dot the various highways like a pock-marked map. 

And then there's New York City, where we don't need no freakin' diner chains. We gots Tom's on Broadway, Ellen's Stardust, Tick Tock, Neptune, even Hector's down in the Meatpacking District. Fuggeddaboudit.

Here they all are mapped out separately (click for an even larger version).

About the Data: 

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

Further Reading: 

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