Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why the Best Restaurants Are On Quieter Side Streets

Christopher Ingraham writes:
Here’s an odd spatial quirk of the New York dining scene with implications for wherever you eat: restaurants located on the city’s streets get better Yelp ratings than those located on avenues, according to a clever analysis by Alex Bell, a New York City resident and engineer.

A bit of context: Manhattan’s streets typically run east to west. They’re shorter, narrower and less trafficked than the island’s avenues, which run north to south and tend to be major thoroughfares, both vehicle and pedestrian.

Those differences are immediately apparent when looking at the city’s official road classifications: Avenues tend to be listed as major arteries, while streets are considered collector and local roads.

Several months ago, George Mason economist Tyler Cowen recorded a podcast with urban planning expert Alain Bertaud of New York University. Cowen asked whether Manhattan’s streets or avenues had better food. “In the streets, definitely,” Bertaud responded, because “you have more specialty restaurants in the streets. In the avenues, you have more people who are just transient, just pass by and are looking for faster food.”

Bell decided to test this hypothesis by harvesting the Yelp reviews of 20,000 Manhattan restaurants. The data showed that the average street restaurant had a Yelp rating of 3.62 stars, while those on avenues received 3.49 stars — a difference that isn’t likely to be random statistical noise.

More to the point, outstanding restaurants — those with a rating of 4.5 stars or higher — were nearly 50 percent more likely to be located on a street than on an avenue. Bell found that “18% of restaurants on the streets had a score of 4.5 or higher, compared to 13% of restaurants on avenues.”

The difference appears to be tied to the relative amounts of foot traffic on streets and avenues, as Bertaud posited. Streets see fewer pedestrians, and off-the-beaten-path restaurants may need to optimize for quality to keep customers coming back. Restaurants on avenues, on the other hand, are virtually guaranteed a relatively large traffic stream. That may force them to place more emphasis on volume, particularly if they’re dealing with higher rents as a result of their busier location.

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