Rarely do we question the aspects of city life that seem so ingrained in our daily routines. For example, let’s examine the strange layout of New York City. Residents essentially live on a long, skinny grid that is divided by blocks and avenues until the city falls into a jumbled maze of alley-like streets. Yet as long as the subways are running smoothly, most New Yorkers don’t think twice about urban planning from centuries ago. However, what we fail to consider is that the somewhat arbitrary layout designed by the founding New Yorkers actually has modern-day implications that help make or break the success of many restaurants.
New York City is comprised of avenues, which run from North-South, and streets, which run from East to West. The difference between an avenue and a street is such: the former is considered to be a highly-populated thoroughfare running across the entire length of the city, whereas the latter is shorter, quieter, and generally more local. Avenues tend to generate much more foot traffic, while streets are usually only taken en route to a specific destination. Being as there are many more streets than avenues, there is simply a greater chance that more people will be taking the common avenue rather than a specific street.
One might think that the busier the street, the more popular the restaurant. A higher number of people are likely to see it, check out the menu, and perhaps even stop in for a quick bite. While this is partially true, there is an unlikely correlation between foot traffic and bad reviews. A recent study by New York engineer Alex Bell found that street-located restaurants received much higher Yelp reviews than their avenue-placed counterparts.
The primary reason for the disparity between avenues and streets is centered around the people who occupy both spaces. The bustling atmosphere of an avenue means that people are on the move, rushing from one place to another. In such a crowded space, walkers are less likely to stop and enjoy their surroundings. Meanwhile, streets tend to be quieter, more serene spaces. They are destination points rather than major thoroughfares. This means that shops and restaurants on the streets tend to be more unique to their environment rather than catering to the masses of passersby.
One particularly extreme example is Times Square. Known as the bane of existence for locals but the pinnacle of culture for many unknowing tourists, Times Square is all about VOLUME! It preys on naive customers who, coming from out of town, are unlikely to return regardless. Thus, the emphasis is not on quality but on quantity. Chain restaurants mark their territory, stealing the spotlight from the sensational restaurants anywhere outside of the tourist-trap bubble.
Ultimately, the main issue is due to the rush of people on avenues and other busy roads (the same principle applies outside of New York City). People who need to get somewhere quickly are not looking for specialty restaurants that offer a unique, elongated meal. Fast-casual restaurant chains are quick to fill this space, often lowering the quality of food and thus overall dining experience. While this is not to condemn fast food restaurants –– seriously, who doesn’t love a good burger and fries combo whipped up in less than 10 minutes –– it is a good point to consider for restaurateurs who are seeking to create a dining experience known for its high standards and distinctive menu. To achieve that goal, perhaps take the street route.
However, for any restaurant owners out there who might be cursing their current real estate, fear not! There are ways to draw in loyal customers while still located on a busy road. Rather than focusing on the speed or quantity of the food, spend time curating a unique experience that will be a refuge from the busy avenue rather than a quick, unmemorable stop on the way.