As City Grows More Bike-Friendly, Restaurants Consider the Benefits


By Mathew Katz

When Maury Rubin, owner of The City Bakery, implemented a 50 percent discount for people arriving at his Birdbath Bakery by bike in 2005, it was a bit too popular–and too costly, so he had to reduce it to 25 percent. Still, he wouldn’t dream of taking it away: In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, he says it’s also helped the reputation of his bakeries.

“It’s novel as hell,” he says. “People are kind of thrilled by it. It helps create loyalty, and absolutely extended the name of Birdbath fairly deep into the cycling community of New York.”

Rubin, who calls himself an “aspiring cyclist”, isn’t the city’s only cycling-cheerleader. The Department of Transportation just finished a project to build 204.5 miles of new bike lanes, and with cycling up 45 percent since 2006, more businesses are embracing a “two-wheels-good” philosophy. Even MoMA offers a discount for people who arrive by bike.

But Rubin’s bakeries have long been alone among the food scene in offering a cycling incentive; he says he thinks it would be great for other restaurants to give a similar discount, but that it’s an expensive proposition.

“That 25 percent discount pretty much takes away our profit,” he says. “It really represents an investment in the mission of the business and forwarding the reputation of the business.”

But Wiley Norvell, of cycling advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, says that with the increase in cyclists around the city, the discount could be worth the cost. “If you can build those relationships [with cyclists] now, when there are relatively few people competing for it, it could help business.”

A cycling incentive also makes restaurants seem greener, which is one of Birdbath’s primary missions. But it doesn’t count towards much-desired green restaurant certification. According to Colleen Oteri, of the Green Restaurant Association, cycling incentives don’t make it onto the association’s criteria for green restaurant certification, though she recommends it as a good management practice. Oteri says the environmental benefit is too hard to quantify, unlike giving a discount for bringing a travel mug to a coffee shop.

Still, some restaurants have been catching on.  Village Restaurant, which closed in July, offered a 10 percent discount for cyclists on Sundays. And while he hadn’t thought of it before, Alberto Gonzalez, owner of Greenwich Village’s hyper-green Gustorganics, will be offering a five percent discount to cyclists starting tonight, after hearing about Birdbath’s.

“I didn’t think about it,” he said. “We should do it! Absolutely, in this tough economic time, it could be a very good incentive.”

Rubin still wants Birdbath to be ahead of the competition–so he’s currently working on two plans, which he wouldn’t give details on, that will closer align Birdbath and the cycling worlds. For now, just take a giant baker’s muffin at 25 percent off.