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Zagat.. What is it good for?

As the song would say', absulotely nothing! I use mine as a starting off point, but the food ratings to me are way off. If the crowd isn't pretty the average Zagat reviewer wants nothing to do with the place. If the place is trendy however it gets an immediate "24" for food.

Now I find it to be like this in Manhattan. What about other cities?

P.S. Can anyone agree on how to pronounce it?

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  1. Phone #s and addresses. And it's Za-GAT.

    7 Replies
    1. re: LindaWhit

      ditto. if i'm going someplace, i'll ask friends for recommendations before i pay any attention to zagat reviews.

      i feel the same way about the boston version, but it's free advertising, so restaurants don't complain. (unless they get slammed, i guess, which rarely seesm the case.)

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Actually, I believe restaurants pay a fee to appear in the guide, maybe about $300?

        1. re: Cecilbee

          Having worked in 4 restaurants that were included in the guide (and having either been responsible for marketing and/or done the books), I can solemnly swear that absolutely NO MONEY (or anything else for that matter) was exchanged for our mention in Zagat.

          1. re: Cecilbee

            This allegation was outrageous enough to get me to phone Zagat long-distance in NY. The operator who answered sait it is totally untrue. I didn't speak to anyone higher up.

            1. re: Brian S

              Sorry for the misinformation. A restaurant owner told me that after declining to buy the Zagat plaque that restaurants sometimes display, the restaurant was removed from the guide. This could be totally false, and I make no representations that I know how Zagat's works. I was just relaying what I was told by the owner. I do know the restaurant once appeared in the guide in prior years, and indeed no longer appeared after the story was told to me.

              1. re: Cecilbee

                Those plaques are produced and sold by a company unaffiliated with Zagat. I believe the reason that restaurants get dropped is too few votes cast. It wouldn't surprise me to learn they use sleazy sales tactics like veiled threats.

                There was a mini-scandal a couple of years back at a Boylston Street (Boston) place called Typhoon, in which it had a Zagat-logoed plaque produced with doctored favorable quotes and inflated ratings. I forget who called them on it, but it made local news for a couple of days.

        2. re: LindaWhit

          It's my understanding re: the pronounciation is that it's not Za-GAT although I thought it was and pronounced it that way for a long time.

          Someone I know who knows Tim and Nina Zagat advised me they pronounce their last name with the emphasis on the first syllable ZAGat. The second syllable "at" sounds like the word "at" but somewhere between "it" and "et". I would say it for you if Chowhound had audio. I still have to correct myself sometimes.

        3. I don't think the numbers are THAT far off. Just take it in segments- a 23-30 is going to be pretty good for the most part. A 16-22 will be fair to good and a 10-16 will be poor to fair. Below 10 I'm usually in agreement to stay away. It's just a jumping off point, not the end all and be all. Generally your local reviewers are better than any of the national guides anyways.

          1. I'm not sure about the numbers, but the comments in the NJ section (of the TriState Guide) seem overly ecstatic. C'mon. Not every mid price restaurant in the state can be THAT wonderful...

            That' said- if you take it with a grain of salt, you can get the gist of how a place is.

            1. Well then it is good for something. It does make a good starting point. Maybe they don't have the best reviews, but they do give a general idea of a restaurant.

              I've used both the Washington D.C./Baltimore and the TriState (NJ) books.

              I for one can't believe that every expensive restaurant in NYC and D.C. is THAT wonderful

              1. The Zagat guides are based on surveys, so they're mostly a popularity contest, like readers' polls in weekly newspapers. Not very useful for much other than identifying the usual suspects.

                1. There is definitely a place for city restaurant guides, as a basis for discerning the types of restaurants, cuisines, and even neighbourhoods, in a given city.

                  Upon moving to Toronto 10 years ago (from Montreal), the first thing I did was subscribe to Toronto Life (mostly for the restaurant info, but also for the "where to find the best" guides in my new city) and buy every Toronto restaurant guide then on the market.

                  Zagat had not yet started their Toronto edition. I bought a couple of books, one written by Joanne Kates (yes, THAT Joanne Kates), which I loved, because it gave me a great overview of the city's restaurants, many of its chefs and their backgrounds and histories, and the types of people I might encounter in said restaurants (I remember one humourous comment about the patrons at Primi in Forest Hill Village, not far from where I'd just settled; and another about her bubby likely turning over in her grave over one restaurant's chicken soup with matzo balls - my bubby would likely do the same).

                  The other book I bought, the name and author of which I can't remember (he was a Toronto lawyer, I believe; CH'ers, please help me out here) was a compendium of the author's favourite restaurants for various foods. I can remember racing all over the city, from Gerrard East to get my first taste of dosa, to somewhere on St. Clair West for our initiation to Portuguese churrasco.

                  So, although I may not have agreed totally with what the reviewers in Toronto Life had to say, and developed my own opinions on the restaurants reviewed by Ms. Kates and Mr. Lawyer, they were lifesavers for someone who then viewed Toronto as a culinary jungle. They gave me some direction.

                  1. It's too bad that Zagat To Go (basically every Zagat guide made, downloaded onto on your smartphone or PDA) doesn't work reliably on my latest (Palm Treo 650). That was really handy: having the name and address of every restaurant in hand, even when I didn't have network access. Plus, it's searchable by neighborhood, cuisine, and feature, e.g., I could find every Italian restaurant in a certain price range with a patio in three Boston neighborhoods. And you could one-button-dial the restaurant from the listing. But then it started putting my phone into a reboot loop when I fired it up.

                    I don't rely on Zagat's ratings. They're too lowest-common-denominator, with awful chain outlets ranking high in some surveys. But as a portable reference, Zagat To Go was great.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      Not to get out of topic, but you should consider downloading Vindigo (www.vindigo.com), it has all that you mentioned above, plus directions on how to get there and maps. In NY it even tells you waht subway station are nearby. It's my bible.

                    2. SG, The Zagat Guide "can be useful" but is often "not very accurate" while being "generally perceived as authoratative" it's "not often used by locals" and certainly "not at the level of Chowhound".

                      2 Replies
                        1. I think there should be some sort of scale depending on the type of restaurant style or food. How can you compare a 24 for pizza at the joint around the corner with a 23 for fancy new american food in a designer lounge?
                          Because even if it is the best pizza in the world it should never get a 24. Probably a 15-16 at best.
                          Or add the service plus decor plus food scores to get a global score that will better reflect the place.
                          So Zagat is good as a directory, useless for ratings.

                          1. It does make a good reference to see what others consider good. For me, the LA version is reasonably accurate. We also cross-reference with these boards, related articles, and recommendations.

                            1. Good god y'all- why'd you have to get that song in my head?!?

                              1. Ditto re basic facts (phone, CC acceptance, etc.)

                                One thing it's substantively good for is that if a place is panned, which happens occasionally, you know the food wouldn't be fit to give a stray dog that hadn't eaten in 2 days... Positive Zagat ratings by themselves haven't been much use in the 16 or so years I've been aware of the things and it seems to me it gets worse every year...

                                1. I use Zagat (Zuh-GAHT) to check on price ranges, which I find to be pretty reliable, and contact information. Before chowhound I might have used it for reviews... but I wouldn't consider using it over interactive discussion boards and personal recommendations.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Adrienne

                                    I think your pronunciation of Zagat is off. I've heard Tim and Nina interviewed and they say to pronounce it like "cat in the hat".

                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                      It was in some well-reputed periodical (I want to say the New Yorker but I don't remember for sure), under "Most commonly mispronounced words," a few years ago. But unless we find the actual Zagat family, I suppose nothing is definitive.

                                      1. re: Adrienne

                                        Tim Zagat responded to the same question in a CNN interview: http://www.contentmatters.info/conten...

                                        P.S. To resolve the age-old question, the correct pronunciation is “Zuh-GAT”, not Zagg-it or Zay-git. Then again, when Tim Zagat was asked that question on CNN a few years ago, his answer was simply “it doesn’t matter; just buy the book”.

                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                          I always knew the accent was on the second syllable, but does it rhyme with "rat" or "rot"?

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            According to his interview, my prior post was incorrect, and it rhymes with "rat."

                                  2. One thing Zagat's got right was the size of the book. I keep my (free) copy in the car and if I'm somewhere I'm not familar with, I check with it. Don't necessarily follow it but it does get the ball rolling.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: ML8000

                                      Me too! I keep it in my car in case I need an address, number or suggestion in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        Ditto, it lives in my car. It's like a hand held phone book that's just for restaurants. I ignore the reviews, but I often reference addresses and phone numbers.

                                      2. As MikeG says, one thing it does do pretty well is cull out the really crappy joints. In your own home town it's not that useful, you have lots more accurate sources to rely on. But I travel on business a lot, and keep up my on-line subscription.

                                        It's provided me with useful suggestions more than once, in places as disparate as suburban Cincinnati (stay out of Mason, go to Blue Ash), to Paris, when I was staying in an unfamiliar arondissement (unforgettable rabbit at Monsieur Lapin), to London, where it steered me to a great Thai place that I would never have chosen on my own since it looked like just another dumpy storefront.

                                        All in all, I consider the $15 annual fee to be more than worth it if it saves me from eating one bad meal.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: BobB

                                          "one thing it does do pretty well is cull out the really crappy joints"

                                          IMO, it doesn't even do that. It might identify the crappy dishes in a joint, but most people will go into restaurants and order the standard items. The great item in that restaurant might be the thing most people won't order.

                                          Long before food forums and online info, I found Zagat more wrong than right. An ambitious restaurant will get people to write in skewing the results. I've always suspected some of the negative info might be the result of competitors.

                                          In the age of the internet, Zagat is irrelevant. I'm not going to pay money to find restaurant info when I can just as easily get it online.

                                          If all you need is mobile restaurant addresses and locations, there are other resources just as good.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            I'd love to get some rec's on other mobile resources for restaurant info that don't require a live Internet connection or usage of cellphone minutes.

                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                              Can't help you there, but it seems like a niche market. Everything I use has one, the other or both ... or other.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                That confirms my premise: Zagat to Go does offer something unique. Broadband data access coverage for mobile devices in huge portions of the US is still quite weak. Doing things like online search (and browsing many popular Internet sites) is still a crappy experience on a PDA or smarphone or Blackberry screen, even if you can get the miserly 300Kbps or so most 3G data services (the latest from the cellphone carriers) actually deliver.

                                                Mobile broadband coverage gets better every year, but it's still infinitely more convenient to search a database local to your device, especially when storage is so cheap: I can fit every Zagat currently published on a $20 postage-stamp sized SD-RAM card. It's a shame that it doesn't work reliably on my Treo. I suspect it's a Palm problem; it ran flawlessly on my previous Palm device.

                                          2. re: BobB

                                            "one thing it does do pretty well is cull out the really crappy joints"

                                            The #1 ranked restaurant in the LA Zagat is the Cheesecake Factory. 'nuff said.

                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                              Well, it's ranked as the most popular, yes, which says something, but it doesn't have that high a food rating (20).

                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                That's funny. I know Zagat is a bad representation of any food but LA picks the Cheesecake Factory? Any thoughts about total food/city greatness ends there.

                                                1. re: ML8000

                                                  Again - Zagat didn't pick it - it was voted "the most popular" - v. different from the places w/ the highest food ratings.

                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    Cheesecake Factory was voted most popular in LA. This means that a plurality of Zagat participants ranked it as their favorite restaurant in LA. Which means that a significant number of voters really like the "food" (if you can call it that) at the Cheesecake Factory. As we can disregard the opinion of anyone who likes the Cheesecake Factory (let alone picks it as their favorite restaurant!), and we can assume that these voters cast countless votes for other restaurants, it means that the entire LA Zagat guide is suspect. Useful, but suspect.

                                                    This does not mean that LA is lacking in savvy hounds or great restaurants. Nor does it mean that you can't find great restaurants using the LA Zagat guide. It just means that LA has a lot of fools who vote on Zagat, and that all Zagat scores should be taken with a grain of salt.

                                                2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                  Hey, Morton, I agree with your point ... just a different point of view ... from Art Buchwald's final column ...


                                              2. I loathe it beyond what's reasonable. Its system privileges well-established chains/franchises (because everyone's visited a Ruth's Chris or an Olive Garden, so they're guaranteed reviews while smaller places get ignored).... places with big advertising budgets...... places that have been around a long time and have a high profile. And it de-privileges the new, the unusual, the unlikely, the overlooked.

                                                Zagat is the very *definition* of conventional wisdom - like asking for recommendations from your dimmest, least adventurous friend.

                                                The antithesis of Chowhound, IMO.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: spigot

                                                  Yeah ... bravo ... exactly.

                                                  One other thing is that it keeps places that have long since peaked in the spot light. An example is Sears Fine Food in SF which was sold and has little to do anymore with the original restaurant (tho I was never a fan ... one of those places early on where Zagat and I didn't see eye to eye).

                                                  People see a restuarant in Zagat. They go there. They are blinded by the fact they are in unfamiliar territory. So they send in the survey saying how great the place was based on some long-outdated Zagat rec of a restaurant coasting on its former glory. It is a vicious circle. Once in the book ... it is there for life usually.

                                                2. Zagats works as a basic guide for the unaware. I think we should all recognize that Zagat has it's place, but my problem is with those who make it a bible.

                                                  2 examples from NY that I can think of-
                                                  1) The Grocery in Brooklyn- Good Food, nice people. One of the top spots in NY, never. As much as I loved living 4 blocks from there for 2.5 years I would not place it in the Top 25 in NY. It just amazed me how many "Brooklyphobes" tracked out there thanks to Zagat.

                                                  2) Tomoe- The fact that this place draws a crowd still amazes me to this day. From what I understand the man who made the place (Ken?) left years ago. For Sushi; I can think of numerous places to go that do not require a 1+ hour wait in the cold and taste 10 x's better. That being said; I swear there is going to be some "foodie" their tonight at the sushi bar with his Zagat in his pocket telling his friends that they are enjoying the best of the best.

                                                  Does Zagat have it's positive point? Yes. But realize, it is more group think than anything.

                                                  1. Zagat is good for keeping Chowhound places in business....BUT ONLY IF YOU ALL VOTE! So often a guy from Bangkok or Bogota sets up shop in an obscure part of town. His food is brilliant but he doesn't get the support, for some reason, of his local community. Everyone on Chowhound is thrilled to death by the chef, but he just doesn't get enough business and within a year he's closed. But if Zagat picks up his place, he will prosper.

                                                    Sripraphai (Queens NYC)-- beloved by Chowhounds, highly rated by Zagat, recently expanded their dining room and there's still a line to get in the door.

                                                    Viko's (Queens NYC)-- beloved by Chowhounds, Zagat didn't know about it, out of business within 9 months.

                                                    1. The maps! Unfortunately only produced for a few cities.

                                                      1. I got more out of their Marketplace guides, but those are not as widespread.

                                                        1. Pronunciation:

                                                          "It's pronounced za-GAT, as in the cat in the hat and that's that," says Tim Zagat, who, with his wife, Nina, founded the guidebook empire 26 years ago. The family name is common in Russia, according to Zagat, but his grandfather altered it from its usual spelling (which begins with an S) when he immigrated to the United States. Zagat adds that he himself even had his pronunciation "corrected" once by an opinionated customer who had called to place an order.
                                                          http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/a... (quoting a Conde Nast magazine


                                                          he's big, he's fat
                                                          it's warm where he sat
                                                          that's tim zagat.
                                                          -- one of his critics

                                                          Another newspaper quoted Mr Zagat as saying, I don't care how you pronounce it if you buy the book!

                                                          1. A bit off topic but what do people think of Gayot's ratings? I like that it is free but not sure how accurate the reviews are.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: RBCal

                                                              i don't like their rating system, but it's a good cross reference for me when i need it.....

                                                            2. When visiting San Francisco, my Zagat guide took me to Salumi's where a fellow diner pointed me to Chowhound...which is how I ended up here.

                                                              Zagat can't be too bad.

                                                              1. I find it useful to remind me of what's in a particular neighborhood. For example, I was in NY a few months ago. I had researched where I wanted to go on this site. sometimes we found ourselves in an area looking for a place to eat and Zagats would remind that there was place on my list in the area.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: saeyedoc

                                                                  It's a common mistake, but just to note that there is no "s" (with or without an apostrophe) at the end of the guide's name. If you look at the cover, the official name is "ZagatSurvey."

                                                                2. What's it good for? Makes a nice fan on hot days.

                                                                  1. I found the Paris edition very handy when it came time to use the loo and there was no paper.

                                                                    In all seriousness, I used to carry it for addresses and for seeing at a snapshot what was in an area, but now my car has GPS and I use that instead.