From the best culinary schools in the nation to the industry's rising stars, here are the most impactful stories of the past year.

These were the most popular stories on this year.

1. Top 22 Culinary Schools

Telling somebody in the restaurant industry, “It’s hard to find good help these days,” is like saying “the sun can burn you,” or “the presidential election was a tad bit contentious this year.” It’s a simple truth and one statement that will surely be met by a knowing look and a conspiratorial nod. And here’s another fact: in the next 10 years, the National Restaurant Association predicts there will be an additional 1.7 million new industry jobs to compete for. A sure-fire way to position yourself to snatch one is by attending a top culinary school.

We started with a list of more than 1,000 schools and educational programs, eventually (and painstakingly) whittling the group down to 22 institutions. The result was a varied collection, from baccalaureate degrees awarded by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Johnson & Wales University, to diploma programs at the Institute of Culinary Education and the International Culinary Center, to associate degrees and certification programs at schools around the country. If you didn’t check it out before, be sure to see who made the cut.

Chef Banks White was named to our list of 40 Rising Stars.

2. Rising Stars

Sometimes people talk about the millennial generation like it’s a different species. But truth is, sooner or later, these young professionals will be the old professionals directing the trajectory of this industry. In our annual Rising Stars article, we searched far and wide, largely building a list from reader-submitted nominations, to present 40 up-and-comers blanketing every corner of the business. The cover subject was Cappie Peete Chapman, who was barely 29 as the issue hit the printer. Yet she had already advanced to the role of director of beverage and education for Charleston, South Carolina’s celebrated Neighborhood Dining Group. She’s just one example of the kind of ascending luminary we profiled in 2016. Side note: this year’s edition will be coming off the press in March.

Robert Irvine (left) and Jon Taffer answered the much-debated question, who would win in a fight, once and for all.

3. Robert Irvine and Jon Taffer Hold Court

What ensues when you mix brash TV personalities Robert Irvine and Jon Taffer? A love fest, actually. The two celebrities, known best for their roles in Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible (since discontinued) and Spike’s Bar Rescue, respectively, sat down with FSR to discuss the state of the restaurant industry headed into the year’s annual National Restaurant Show in Chicago, where they co-hosted an event for the first time. The pair started by ranting about why tipping isn’t going anywhere and closed with a debate about who would win in a fight. The answer? “I would probably kiss him more than I would fight him,” Irvine said.

Chef Kevin Gillespie’s celebrated Gunshow made our list of Top 100 Independent Restaurants.

4. Declaration of Independents

Like much of America, we here at FSR were in a red and blue (and green) kind of mood this past summer. So when it came time for our yearly breakdown of the nation’s top 100 independent restaurants, we put party affiliation and political buzz aside to curate a list focusing on the leading restaurants in our nation’s capital cities. With state and local restaurant associations lending a hand, we created a lengthy list that wasn’t short on diversity. It ran the gamut from Bully’s Restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi, which was literally built by its founder’s hands in the early 1980s to Indianapolis’ landmark St. Elmo Steak House, which made nearly $18 million last year. Check out the list by description, or browse each category in a sortable chart. Regardless, like always, this story was a great exercise for our staff, and introduced us to the single-unit operators around the country redefining the industry.

How will the casual dining industry move forward in 2017?

5. Are We Witnessing the Death of Casual Dining?

By now you’ve read the many reports and heard the doomsday forecast. Thanks to a variety of factors, including the rise of fast casual, some of the nation’s most recognizable chains are struggling to keep pace. One example is Ruby Tuesday, which saw its revenue fall by 8.2 percent since the first fiscal quarter of 2016 and closed 109 restaurants. The question now becomes: is this truly the end? Or is it just a passing—and correctable—trend? Staff writer Alex Dixon explored the landscape. Admittedly, it doesn’t look good. But, as some key players are proving, there is some light at the end of the tunnel if you know how to find it.

Expert Takes, Feature