A big city is a haven for analysis because there’s so much going on in a relatively small space: people, public transit, real estate, and anything else, they all represent data points. Since New York is formally divided into boroughs, city data analysis gets an additional categorical dimension: we get to see how the five closely-related parts compare to the whole. Whereas neighborhood boundaries can get fuzzy, and zip codes are too narrow, boroughs are distinct subsets of the overall city that have developed their own flavors and, some would argue, odors.

On the topic of flavors and odors, this time around we’re looking at restaurants. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) pays surprise visits to restaurants to test how well they manage basics such as food handling and cleanliness.  Here, the term “restaurant” is a wide net that includes everything from greasy spoons to fancy white-linen tablecloth numbers to corner coffee shops. If they serve anything to eat or drink, DHMH will check it out.

DHMH makes the raw inspection data available via the NYC Data Mine for anyone to review. We recently asked the data what it could tell us about New York City and its residents.

(Our numbers are based on census projections and the last twelve months’ DHMH inspection data, from September 2008 through August 2009. We hope to give an update once DHMH releases the rest of the 2009 data.)

The first thing we noticed is just how many restaurants are out there. We counted about 23,000. This is based on the number of unique restaurants in the data set and the (hopefully reasonable!) assumption that every restaurant in the city gets inspected at least once a year. While some places have no doubt closed and new ones have opened, those fluctuations should be mild compared to the totals.

How are these restaurants distributed throughout the city? A pretty picture shows us the counts by borough:

NYC: restaurants per borough

I expect few people will be shocked that Manhattan and Staten Island hold the extremes. That aside, the standalone numbers don’t tell us a whole lot. A restaurant client or owner or patron may be curious to know how these raw counts relate to other information, such as population.

Based on census estimates, about 8.2 million people live in New York City. That means 360 people for every restaurant, and that’s not counting the tourists! Once again, a chart will show us how the boroughs compare:

NYC: population per restaurant

Despite having the greatest number of restaurants, Manhattan has the smallest ratio of population to restaurant count. At only 200 people per establishment, I don’t understand why I have so much trouble getting a table. Maybe it’s me?

Whether you want to run a restaurant or just eat in one, you may also want to know about the competition: how many other restaurants are there within a given space? That is, what is the city’s restaurant density?

New York City is about 300 square miles in size, so on the whole we have about 75 restaurants per square mile. The borough breakdown tells a different story:

If you’re hungry and on foot, Manhattan is the place to be! At almost 400 eating establishments per square mile, you’ll practically trip over restaurants. (Of those, there are 8 Stabucks per square mile. That’s a lot of caffeine.) By comparison, the other boroughs may require that you know where to look.

To help compare the boroughs, and to produce the obligatory pretty color chart, here we see how the breakdown in terms of their percentage of New York City’s restaurants, area, and population:

NYC: percentage of area, population, restaurants

In future posts, we’ll explore what the inspection data means for restaurant owners and consumers.

Have some interesting data you’d like us to check out? Need our help making sense of your company’s data? Please drop us a line. Thanks for reading.

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