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Is the Zagat guide reliable?

I'm coming to NY in April and thinking about buying a copy of the Zagat restaurant guide. Not sure whether its worthwhile, ie, is it really a good indication of which are the best places to eat in NYC? Any ideas appreciated. We will only be in NY for 6 nights, but that is quite a few breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
PS we will be with a 5 and 7 year old.

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  1. i used to love zagats because i knew real foodies were writing the reviews. however, ask yourself, doesn't the average person like average food? zagats now gets tons of people providing feedback, the more people, the more "average" the reviewers will be. take it for what it is.

    1. Zagat's is a bit of a popularity contest but it is a good start.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tpigeon

        Stole my thunder... I say it is a good confirming source, but should not be used as the gospel in any way. I have done pretty well with zagat, but it is clearly not always accurate. In fact, it favors foods from high end places and is reluctant to place a great food rating on a less "event-like" place.

      2. i find this website to be far more helpful than zagat's btw, dkstar1, how did you get hooked up with participating in those surveys?

        2 Replies
        1. re: nativeNYer

          Apologies to dkstar1-I thought I volunteer an answer to nativeNYer.
          You can do the surveys online at zagat.com. In olden days, the hard copy survey would be available in restaurants. But it is much easier to do online. And on the site, it will be indicated which surveys are available for completion. Different times of the year mean different surveys. There are some other benefits to the site. And, if you want to pay, you get even more benefits. I go the freebie way myself (and for completing a survey, you get a free copy of that guide mailed to you).

          1. re: eve

            thanks so much, eve. i just found this reply today. i rarely log onto their site b/c there's not much to access without being a paying member . didn't know this was an option, much less available for non-paying folks. thanks again . i'll look into this!!!!

        2. Zagat is worthwhile for a starting point, but for NY you might consider using Michilin.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jpschust

            Agree about Zagat. Michelin, in my view, is flawed as well...

            1. re: jsmitty

              I agree that it's flawed, but it's significantly better than Zagat for the locations which it covers.

          2. I think there are plenty of people who participate in Zagat ratings who aren't especially discriminating, as evidenced by the high ratings given to horrible chain outlets in some cities. The stuff that appears after the semi-colon in each review is generally more reliable, as it is (I believe) the local editor's dissenting opinion in the guise of general-public comments.

            I find it a handy guide from a reference standpoint (phone numbers, addresses, features), and the PDA and website versions have useful search features (e.g., "show me all Italian restaurants in this neighborhood with a patio"), but the reviews are too lowest-common-denominator to serve as a trustworthy source of recommendations. It's better than nothing, or relying on some idiot grafting hotel concierge, in a strange city. I try to do my homework on Chowhound before I travel.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Me, too. Before trips, I post queries here then cross reference them to either a guide like Zagats, or local publications like Time Out. I've found that most of the glossy city-named publications (Washingtonian, Baltimore, etc) have pretty pictures but sloppy reviews. I've also had pretty good luck with reviews from local free weeklies like City Paper.

              I feel odd quoting Reagan in a chow thread, however,"Trust but verify" is apropos here.

            2. Zagats is very iffy. Sometimes a popularity contest and after all there is absolutely NO WAY TO CHECK OUT WHETHER OR NOT A GOOD SCORE IS THE RESULT OF VOTES OR SOMETHING ELSE. Keep in mind it is regional, and of course an average. Also there are trends in New York, I would go to tripadvisor.com maybe a little more honest.

              1. It's fairly reliable as a popularity / name-recognition contest, but you could come up with pretty much the same list of places for free by looking at the last few years' "best of" lists from the Voice:


                Your best bet is to compile tentative lists and post them on Chowhound's Manhattan and Outer Boroughs boards for advice.

                1. Maybe this article will help you decide about Zagat guides' reliability. It a deep look at the whole methodology of the guide. Interesting and, for me, pretty much confirms what I've always suspected (which ain't good):


                  1. Zagat guides are like 20 blind men describing an elephant: too many diverse opinions combined. However, we use our Zagat as a phone directory.

                    1. Zagats is a decent starting point, to get some cute quotes and to get an idea where restos are located. There is a lot of old thoughts in here. Oh yeah, i went to ABC resto in 1993 and really like the fish. What good is that input in 2007. It's better than some of the others, Gayot comes to minds, in which every resto is fantastic or menupages in which they do not allow many negative reviews on anything.

                      1. I think it is a good guide within a city, but absolutely not reliable to compare ratings between different cities. You have different dining clientele who are exposed to different qualities of food. What gets a 28 for food in Tampa (to pick a place randomly, nothing against Tampa) may be only a 21 or 22 in NY or San Francisco.

                        1. I have found Zagat's to be more accurate in NY where people are harsher on restuarants than in other markets. Like the above poster pointed out some places get scores in the high 20s that would be a 21 in NY.

                          I have 2 other issues with zagat's unrelated to cross-market comparison
                          1) restaurants that are popular but have gone downhill continue to get high scores as people probably vote based on their experience years ago
                          2)the prices I find to be what it would cost to order the cheapest appetizer and entree at dinner before dessert and a drink. I am sure some of it comes from the lunch crowd but suggested price for some restaurants is below what the prix fixe is for that restaurant (and thats the only option). For example Grammercy Tavern is listed at $76 and this is supposed to include 1 drink and tip but their website has dinner at $76 and some dishes have suppliments and they have tasting menus as well. Shouldn't the average meal therefore cost closer to $100 ($76 with a 20% tip is 91.20)? I know about the tavern room but this example was first to come to mind.

                          1. Sign up for the free forums. It gives you access to the restaurant reviews.

                            The problem with Zagat is that it feeds on itself. A restaurant appears in the guide. A zillion people go there. Those zillion people report. It stays in the guide long after what made it special is gone.

                            Also, I haven't been REALLY following this, but they changed the rating system. A restaurant is not rated from 0 to 30. It is rated 1, 2 or 3. They then do something to convert that to a 0 to 30 rating. Zagat bores me to death, so I haven't followed that much. But if yo]du look at the food forums a lot of people are bitching about the rating.

                            The better question to ask is what is the best food guide for NY. Can't answer for NY, but in SF it is Patricia Unterman's Guide and the Chowhound Guide. There's a NY version of the Chowhound guide. If you go to to Amazon, you can look inside to see if it would be a help.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: rworange

                              I think you have to pay to acess Zagat ratings on their site. Interesting, I never knew a Chowhound's Guide existed. How long has it been around?

                              1. re: AveryP

                                Yeah, you are right. You can read forum members reviews ... which are separate from the discussions ... but you can't see the rating. I didn't notice that since that is the least important thing to me. Forced me to fiil out a review to see if that gave access to the ratings ... nope. Then again, it takes them 24 hours to post, so who knows.

                                Really deadly to me ... they limit the reviews to 600 characters. As you type it tells you how many characters are left. According to the rules "be sure to provide descriptive, pithy reviews whenever possible."


                                Not sure if there is a time limit on editing. It is just such a difficult, counter-intuitive site to me and not worth the hassle. They don't even acknowledge your review is submitted. Hit submit & nothing apparant happens. At most, I might use it for stuff I can't find elsewhere like restaurant hours.

                                Anyway the two Chowhound Guides were published in April 2005. Can't speak for the NY Guide but I find the SF still very useful.

                                SF Guide

                                NY Guide

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Wow, pithy? they have been using that same word since the mid-80's when the paper version was mailed to you and you were limited to 25 words.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    I usually use Google for addresses, phone numbers, and hours. Menupages.com is also good.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      Pithy? Perhaps this description should be left out.

                                  2. re: rworange

                                    They just averaged the 0-3 score and multiply by 10. They should allow you to put in 0-30. Otherwise it leads to score inflation.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      You have to pay to read the reviews and ratings. You can read the forum posts for free.

                                      I believe the survey rating choices were always 0 to 3. They average them and multiply by 10 for the published ratings.

                                    2. Back in the early days they used to comp any surveyer who submitted more than X reviews. It was in the paper survey days of the 80's. To get to that number many filled out with restos they visited "sometime in their life" and others filled out restos that they would never go to (either location or price) just to get to X and receive a free copy.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jfood

                                        As I said above (though some said I'm wrong) they still do! I checked the website and voting for NY Marketplace guide (food stores) is on. Deadline: March 4!! And it says:

                                        "Complete the survey by the deadline to get a free copy of the resulting New York City Marketplace guide when it's published"

                                      2. Been there, participated, got the free book. After all, isn't that why most people do it?


                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: TexasToast

                                          I've spoken to several people who fill out the annual questionnaire only to get a free Guide.

                                        2. I do use the Zagat guides, but only for a broad idea of what's available. I find them generally less reliable than Chowhounds, but pretty thorough in terms of numbers of places reviewed. I certainly wouldn't go to a place simply because it had a high Zagat rating, and I wouldn't assume that such a rating was anything like a guarantee of a fine meal.

                                          1. Up until a year or two ago, the designation I most relied on in the Zagat guide was the consistency rating -- those empty/half-filled/fully-filled little circles that indicated the degree to which the ratings were consistent among raters. Now they've eliminated that designation, so I place little value in the absolute ratings, and even less in the carefully-selected verbatim comments.

                                            Having said that, I still use the Zagat Guide for NYC because it gives me an idea of dining options in the various neighborhoods as well as ~~relative~~ prices and ratings. But I would MUCH rather read CH postings and opinions, which, I believe, are closer to reality than the Zagat Guide.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: CindyJ

                                              Agreed. It's a general help and especially a help when you are in a city at the last minute for travel and would rather grab that to get an idea of what you want versus the no help W New York concierge (little bitter? :) ). For example- it led us to Cafe Boulud on a sunday night when we were able to get in without reservations. Yes, I knew of Boulud before the trip, but it wasn't on our agenda at all and I wouldn't have rememberd it had we not gone. Oh, and we saw Anne Coulter in there when we were eating there.

                                            2. Actually I think the Zagat New York guide is far better than it has any right to be. No, it's not to be trusted unless you verify the rating somewhere else and no, it's not as good as Chowhound. But from the way it's made is should be about as reliable as writing the names of restaurants on slips of paper, tossing them, and going to the restaurant that lands closest to the wastebasket. And it's far better than that.

                                              I have a 2005 guide, printed 3 years ago. Let's see how it reviews some Chowhound.com faves. It does very well!!

                                              DiFara 27 "there's a genius at work"
                                              Sripraphai 27 if it were in Manhattan "there'd be lines around the block"
                                              Malagueta 25 "artistic interpretations of classic Brazilian"
                                              Al di la 25 "fantastic, savory cooking"

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Brian S

                                                Zagat usually gives good restaurants high ratings. It just doesn't correct them downward very quickly when places go downhill, and some mediocre or bad places get mysteriously high scores.