Analyzing NYC’s Open Restaurants Program

Originally posted on July 6th, 2020 - An early look at the “Open Restaurants” program launched last month in NYC to provide more outdoor dining and seating options for restaurant patrons.

By Starling Childs

I’ve always enjoyed walking in New York. Each block really is its own unique place with a new experience around every corner. For New York and so many other cities I love, this has a lot to do with the diverse mix of shops and storefronts block to block.

Right now, cities around the world are grappling with the same set of challenges and doing what they can to find a safe balance between enabling commerce while encouraging safe social behavior. In the US, the hardest hit city from the pandemic so far is now on a path to recovery and reopening. Last week marked the beginning of New York City’s phase 2 for reopening businesses. NYC’s government agencies are in the process of working with local businesses to reopen safely. As part of this gradual process, the city launched a program called Open Restaurants, helping restaurants that participate add outdoor seating where space provides on sidewalks and roadways.

New York’s Department of Transportation, which oversees the Open Restaurants program, used their ArcGIS account to publish a map with some analysis features that help people understand the outcomes of the program and see which restaurants are participating. While the tool is helpful, we wanted to take a closer look at the data. Thanks to New York City’s open data policies, the data from this program is available online for those looking for it.

[click here to access dataset: Open Restaurant Applications]

At Citiesense we want to deepen our understanding of the complex and fluid dynamics at play in the city streets right now in order to improve how we develop and test information sharing solutions as the situation evolves. Our goal is to make information accessible to those that need it in order to improve how busy commercial area operate, whether in the best of times or the most challenging. The Open Restaurants program offered a unique opportunity to analyze some of the data for this current solution, so we set up some maps to get started. Our first step was to assemble the data in a few maps to interact with the data and visualize it. We chose to work with our Carto account for this and created a series of interactive maps.

The first map we created was a map to show all restaurant businesses city-wide so that we could overlay those participating in Open Restaurants for comparison.

Map view showing that the majority of businesses in this section of the city (405 selected) each occupies somewhere between 128 and 768 square feet of sidewalk space.

Out of the roughly 26,000 restaurants permitted in New York City, over 20% are now self-certified to participate in the Open Restaurants program. This enables them to set up extended outdoor dining areas in order to safely serve their patrons in an open air environment.

Neighborhoods with the most participating businesses include the West Village with over 300, the East Village and Tribeca, both with around 250 businesses.

The West Village, East Village and Tribeca neighborhood tabulation areas currently have the highest participation numbers in the program, however this is not based on a percentage of the total number of restaurants.

Some other stats include:

  • 399.62 sq ft is the average sidewalk seating area
  • 281.85 sq ft is the average roadway seating area
  • 1,253 is the number of restaurants described as “American cuisine”
  • 241 is the number of restaurants described as “Cafe/Coffee/Tea”
  • 2,925 restaurants certified for both Sidewalk seating and Roadway seating

Adding Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) as a filter

We also created a map to look at how many restaurants are participating within one of New York’s 76 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Out of the 6,500 restaurants located in BIDs, roughly 17% are participating in Open Restaurants.

Curious about cuisines?

Finally, we also created a map to analyze the different restaurants based on the DOHMH description of the cuisines. Some of the top categories are American, Mexican, Latin (Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, South & Central American), and Cafe/Coffee/Tea.

Working with our partners at NYC SBS Neighborhood Development department we’ve been analyzing this data and coming up with some questions to consider around reopening businesses safely and tracking the progress of programs like this.

  • How much sidewalk and roadway space is necessary for businesses to safely operate outdoors right now?
  • Will this new space be enough for them to safely serve customers and generate enough income to pay their expenses, such as their commercial rents for what is now somewhat marginalized indoor space and private property.
  • How is the amount of outdoor space comparable to the businesses indoor space in terms of occupancy guidelines?
  • How might cities determine appropriate capacity or occupancy standards for outdoor space, if such a thing needs to exist now?
  • Could businesses offer some insight into this as we all look for ways to do more with less and maintain equity in our public spaces?

To answer questions like this, we look to our local partners, such as the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and neighborhood community organizations. By equipping them with the Citiesense “Neighborhood Knowledge Platform” we are able to work closely with them on inventorying and analyzing local conditions across their community. The insight and information organized and managed in their Citiesense accounts helps them inform their stakeholders, partners and anyone else interested in ways to support better business, quality of life and future opportunities in these dynamic downtown areas.

Have you been enjoying the new outdoor dining space? Here’s a final map to help you checkout who’s open with outdoor space around you in New York:

NYC Open Restaurants Map — take it with you on your phone.

Or create your own analysis of the mix of different participating restaurants by drawing your own business district boundary.

Notes on our methods

The raw Open Restaurants dataset includes several possible false entries that we wanted to remove from our analysis.

Showing results counted toward the total number of restaurants in the data labeled “test”

To do this we merged it with a restaurant inspections dataset from the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene that includes all permitted restaurants across the city. This enabled us to remove records that did not match with a permit from DOHMH’s data, as well as to give us an estimate of how many restaurants there are total, including those not participating in the Open Restaurants program. This also enabled us to associate the DOHMH cuisine categories with the businesses.

After removing records without a verified restaurant permit, we added some analysis widgets and combined the data with a couple of other dataset, like the NYC Business Improvement Districts and Neighborhood Tabulation Areas.

Note: This post was originally posted on July 6th, 2020. The following is an update:

Since the original post, we've added an analysis of Open Restaurants compared with 311 Complaints. Ginkgo provides all of our customers, whether a Business Improvement District, Chamber of Commerce, or Merchants Alliance, with email-based alerts to notify them when 311 Complaints come up in their specific coverage areas. This way they can help local businesses respond to the complaint if it pertains to something they have the ability to address. Local businesses like this approach a lot better than the alternative, which is often receiving a fine from the city for a violation they weren't made aware of! 

Take a look at this map to analyze the data for yourself... Maybe you'll find a complaint you can alert your local business to before the city issues them a fine for a violation.

[311 vs Open Restaurants]

We created map using tools from one of Ginkgo's mapping partners, CARTO to visualize all of this data in one place.
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