There aren’t many second-floor restaurants in New York. In Japan, they are common. In fact, in Tokyo, you would find many buildings packed with restaurants on all floors. It works for them because Japanese customers are used to the idea of finding restaurants on different floors. These buildings generally have directories of restaurants on the ground floor, and Japanese customers are trained to consult these directories. New Yorkers have no such custom. They don’t think to look beyond the ground floor. Basement restaurants are more common because we tend to notice things below us, especially in New York where we have to constantly watch out for things that we could trip over or step on, like dog shit.
There are some exceptions. Koreatown on 32nd Street has many buildings packed with restaurants on multiple floors. I assume this is possible because this type of buildings is also common in Korea, and Korean people are used to looking at restaurants beyond street level.
I can think of only a handful of second-floor restaurants in New York City, and they are all good. Since not many people would randomly walk into a second-floor restaurant, the quality of the food would have to be good enough to spread the word. Phayul (Tibetan restaurant in Jackson Heights Queens), Yopparai (Japanese izakaya in Lower East Side), and this place pictured, Bengal Tiger, an Indian restaurant on 56th Street, recommended by @walkeatout.
Something being hard to find by itself can cause us to desire it, but as a marketing strategy, it’s risky because there is always a good chance that people simply don’t find it, period. However, today with all the social media channels through which the word can spread, it might be a better strategy to invest the money in social media marketing instead of on the rent.
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