While independent restaurants close, major chains are thriving thanks to lunch hours and tourists.
Finding a chain dining experience in New York City has never been difficult, per se. Pretty much every subway line will take you to Times Square, and once there, you can have your pick of litter... assuming you can fight your way through the droves of tourists to the entrance of the Olive Garden. But in recent years, the number of chain restaurants in the city has grown significantly, meaning that dining at your favorite chain in the Big Apple is easier than ever before.
Chain restaurants haven’t completely taken the city over. According to Crain’s, only 3,419 of NYC’s 26,546 restaurants and bars fit into the “chain” category—under 13 percent. Still, while the number of independent restaurants has dropped by 8 percent over the past four years, the number of chain locations grew significantly from 2008 to 2016. In that span, Dunkin’ Donuts increased its NYC footprint by 75 percent, Popeye’s was up 56 percent, Taco Bell increased locations by 37 percent, and Subway added 29 percent more restaurants in the city. Of the five chains Crain’s highlighted, only McDonald’s has fewer locations in New York than it did eight years ago, but it still has 217 in the city overall.
Meanwhile, the question becomes what is driving this growth? In many ways, New York would seem less hospitable to chains than it has been in the past thanks to health initiatives like having to post calorie counts and an increase in minimum wage. But Crain’s points out that the city has changed in other ways as well. “A record 4.4 million New Yorkers are employed, and many want something fast and cheap for lunch,” the publication writes. “Tourism has doubled in the past 20 years, to more than 60 million, and many visitors look for familiar fare to munch on. And while there appears to be a glut of fast-food restaurants across the country—which experts see as a growing threat to the industry as a whole—New York is still relatively underrepresented. According to the Department of Labor, only 2% of the city's private-sector employees work in limited-service restaurants, compared with 4% nationally.”
If that’s the case, the number of chains in New York City may still continue grow. We’ll know its hit maximum capacity when In-N-Out finally decides to open in town.