Beijing has made enormous investment in rail transit since the late 2000s. The rapidly growing subway system greatly improves the accessibility of neighborhoods nearby subway stations and often increases neighborhood population and employment densities, both resulting in a larger market for local retail businesses. While numerous studies have shown that rail transit investment tends to raise property value close to stations, few have provided direct evidence on rail transit’s effects on local consumer amenities. Using citywide catering establishment data since 2004 from dianping.com (China’s yelp.com), we study the effects of new subway stations on catering openings, diversity and consumer demand in neighborhoods near a subway station opened during 2004–2013. We find that a new subway station positively contributes to the quantity, diversity and consumer demand of nearby food and beverage services. These effects are heterogeneous spatially and in terms of catering types. This study enriches the limited extant empirical evidence on urban rail transit’s impact on local economic activities and consumer amenities. In China, where unprecedented rail transit expansion has transformed large cities like Beijing in many ways, our findings can help us better understand how major public investment in cities affects local economy, quality of life, the housing market and related further policy concerns.