NYC Open Restaurants

Sherry Manzar

I came across the “Open Restaurants” map when I was researching existing mapping activity on the impact of the COVID19 on the foodservice industry of New York City. The map, designed and maintained by the New York City government, shows all the restaurants granted a permit to operate in an outdoor dining capacity in the city.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, the restaurant industry suffered a dual burden of having lost the customer flow on which it depended for survival but also now being termed as “essential”.  Most of the labour the industry relies upon is largely undocumented and, therefore, unprotected. The foodservice industry has had to radically shift how it operates, with a larger focus on deliveries and now outdoor dining.

As the re-opening slowly commenced in late June 2020, the city launched “Open Restaurants” (NYC Open Restaurants v2))  to help customers find restaurants that have been approved for outdoor dining).

The map is displayed inside a dashboard that offers some degree of user interactivity. It displays an urban basemap of the city and marks with different colours the restaurants that are open (the colours denoting availability of alcohol service). The map is ensconced in a larger dashboard that, among other information, provides aggregates on availability of alcohol service, type of outdoor seating, and borough-wide statistics.

 Users can filter the data according to their boroughs and zip codes, and also search for a particular restaurant. The dashboard is built on the popular proprietary GIS mapping platform, ArcGIS.  

The message ostensibly seems to be that the city is open for dining to resume and one can, if they would like, go about the city and eat and imbibe. It also sends a message that the city is facilitating restaurant patronage by showing aggregate counts of “approved applications”. The map, like many public dashboards, aims for a “real-time” view of the situation and provides a “Last update: a minute ago” status bar at the bottom.

It appears after some engagement with the dashboard that the city government wants to portray and convey a sense of competence by way of data and establish that not only does it have a granular view on the restaurant industry but is also working hard to make sure they reopen and serve food and alcohol as soon as possible.

The map seems to be tailored for those looking to go out to dine and drink as there is little else that the dashboard aims to provide. For its target audience, it looks to be reasonably easy to navigate. Interestingly, even though the raw data that serves the dashboard on the backend is public and supposed to be open, it is not available for download as a link on the dashboard.

However, the map as it stands right now hides the myriad of changes that have taken place since the start of the pandemic – ironic, as its chief focus seems to be visualising one of the bigger changes – that is, outdoor dining.

We need to consider what is being missed when the restaurant industry is mapped in such a way. As Lauren Klein and Catherine D’Ignazio write in Data Feminism tells us that “What gets counted counts,” feminist geographer Joni Seager has asserted ….  What is counted … often becomes the basis for policymaking and resource allocation. By contrast, what is not counted—like being nonbinary—becomes invisible… “.

This is important because the dashboard “hides” a very uncomfortable fact: the restaurants and bars which are no longer in operation and the impact that has had on their neighbourhoods. Indeed, the dashboard in its current form seems to provide a “net positive” view of the pandemic: here’s a display of all the restaurants that are open around us. This narrative obfuscates and forgets the thousands of restaurants, many long-time neighbourhood institutions, that have been casualties of the pandemic.

Exploring this fact further also reveals another uncomfortable notion: how many of these restaurants and their employees (most of them quite vulnerable, many of them undocumented) could have fared better had the city been more active in providing support earlier.  One is reminded of Amartya Sen’s work, which argued that seemingly natural disasters are often “man-made”, compounded by “apathy and inaction” and a failure to uphold the social contract by governments to their citizens.

Lastly, the other dimension that the map does not acknowledge is how the streets, roads, and neighbourhoods look and sound differently since the advent of the pandemic. This was never an explicit aim of the map but it is important to document how the city has transformed both at a macro-scale and at the block scale. The “World in Ten Blocks” interactive documentary  is one such fantastic example by which the sheer complexity and diversity of just ten blocks can be captured by sounds and images.

In my research, I found one map that aimed to be more holistic and observant than a dashboard in capturing the same restaurant data from their neighbourhood.  The North Brooklyn Neighbours maintain the “Essentially Open” ( map. It is similar to the NYC government dashboard but also provides an additional layer to show the restaurants that closed. Aside from that layer, it also provides critical information around the hours of operation and modes of delivery offered.  Another map that does it well is “What’s Open East Village” by the East Village Community Coalition ( The latter map even provides categories for minority-owned businesses to highlight where support might be needed the most.

My maps for the atlas also aim to be similarly designed. One that I am working on now aims to show, via colours, the number of restaurants closed interlaced with the number of minority restaurant workers in the same neighbourhoods. This is to aim and show where the impact has been the most drastic. Another takeaway for me is to document the more sensory changes in the spatial environment. I aim to do that by focusing on my neighbourhood Open Streets program and recording the sights and sounds when it is in operation.



Kaitano Dube, Godwell Nhamo & David Chikodzi (2020) COVID-19 cripples global restaurant and hospitality industry, Current Issues in Tourism, DOI:  [10.1080/13683500.2020.1773416]( )  

[Open Restaurants](

[Experience]( )

“Data Feminism.” [4. “What Gets Counted Counts” · Data Feminism]( )

[The World in Ten Blocks | Lost Time Media]( )

[All NYC Businesses Closed During 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic]( )

North Brooklyn Neighbors. “Essentially Open.” Accessed March 9, 2021. .

“What’s Open East Village – East Village Community Coalition.” Accessed March 9, 2021. .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *