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Zagat's stinks!

m
michael Jul 28, 2000 02:36 PM

Man, Zagat's guide stinks. A restaurant called 2117 gets a rating of 25. That's pretty high given that Patina gets a 28. I go there. Totally mediocre food. The world needs a more reliable restaurant guide.

Just had to get that off my chest. I feel better. Thanks.

  1. l
    Larry Aug 1, 2000 08:51 AM

    The Zagat guide is made up of thousands of reviews by the people that frequent these restaurants. Not everybody's taste is the same. The opinions in the guide are not just one person's opinion. If you disagree, you are in the minority opinion regarding that restaurant. I personally found 2117 nice but nothing special, better than mediocre. Fusion is a hard thing to do well. For me Zagat has been a valuable guide on many occasions.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Larry
      g
      greg Aug 1, 2000 10:32 AM

      Zagat's made up of thosands of reviews, but with so many writing in, it's boiled down to the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR!! These are opinions of people who go where they are told to go. Zagat reviews don't count for much IMHO. It's great for getting addresses and phone numbers, 'tho.

      1. re: Larry
        j
        jason Aug 1, 2000 10:39 AM

        I agree that Zagat doesn't stink and that it has value. The concept of averaging the opinions of a large number of real customers is a good one. The frustration is that it should be much better than it is. I see two major problems and would be very interested in seeing other thoughts.
        1-Each restaurant's scores result from the unique sample of diners rating that restaurant and each sample is to a greater or lesser extent different. Thus there is limited comparability between scores for different places and no overall normalization. There are statistical methods to try to get around this, but I don't believe that Zagat uses them. When Zagat declares its scores statistically significant it is a statement only about the uniformity of that restaurant's sample and has no implications for comparability to others. A sort of example, but interesting, is Phoenix Garden in NYC which moved from Chinatown to Murray Hill. Its Zagat rating went up while its quality went down. The reason being that the sample of diners eating Chinese food in Murray Hill is less discerning in this cuisine than than the sample eating in Chinatown.
        2-Zagat voters are limited to rating a restaurant only 0,1,2,3 and this is frustratingly crude and prevents an individual from providing a nuanced opinion.

        1. re: jason
          b
          Bilmo Aug 1, 2000 12:03 PM

          Also... The ratings will be skewed to the positive side, in that those who like a restaurant will probably go much more often than those who don't like it. If people follow Zagat's rules and only review places they visited in the past year, that will eliminate everyone who tried it before the last year and rejected it and don't go back. On the other hand, this happens to the ratings for all restaurants, so while I ignore the absolute ratings, the comparitive ratings do help. I find Zagat helpful when traveling in unfamiliar places, but it's just one of many resources, not a bible.

          1. re: Bilmo
            j
            Jason Aug 1, 2000 12:44 PM

            Over time there is also a self-correcting pendulum effect. As the rating of a restaurant goes up the higher rating draws in people looking for a superior dining experience and when they are disappointed they will down rate the restaurant pushing the score back down.

            1. re: Jason
              j
              Jim Leff Aug 1, 2000 01:02 PM

              But there is also a double effect going in the opposite direction.

              1. As a restaurant's rating climbs, people tend to sign on to the conventional wisdom rather than trust their own observations, and the "buzz" self-propogates

              2. As a rating climbs, expectations climb, and people visit the restaurant with a positive mindset, which is a powerful influence for those who lack self-confidence in their opinions (the majority, I think). Maybe not for you or me, but there are a lot of non-chowhounds filling out these surveys. If it were all chowhounds (people dedicated to cutting through hype and passionately in search for serious quality and value) voting, this sort of stuff would be much less a factor.

              ciao

              1. re: Jim Leff
                b
                Bilmo Aug 1, 2000 01:19 PM

                But for all of Zagat's flaws, I think that the general quality of the restaurants that are on, say, their favorites list is pretty good. Sure, a few are lousy, others shouldn't be as high, many, many others should be on it. But if you visited all those restaurants, I'd bet most people would be pretty happy. They may not have dined at the best, and they'd miss out on a lot of small, ethnic places, but they'd get a good experience, of a certain kind, overall. Not that I'd want to dine that way, but it does have it's place.

        2. re: Larry
          j
          Jim Leff Aug 1, 2000 12:47 PM

          But consider a few things. I'm a professional restaurant critic, and a couple of years ago I wrote a guidebook in which I intended to include only really timely opinions. Since it was a guide to my favorite places, a bunch of them didn't need checking out, because I knew them so well.

          But even though I was working in a really disciplined, careful way (hey, lots of smart people would be reading this and I didn't want to look like a fool!), I STILL found myself holding fast to some opinions that were actually quite old. There were a number of places I supposed I could write up on memory that, when I really thought about it, I hadn't been to in two or three years. It was scary.

          When filling out the Zagat form, you're supposed to only review places you've visited in twelve months (which itself is a terrible lag...not fresh at all!). It's clear from a careful study of Zagat's ratings that opinions lag a lot more than 12 months. And I've explained why; if I, a professional with my reputation riding on my opinions, found it really hard to separate my own stale opinions, what hope is there for anonymous people working fast and with no repercussions?

          Also, their ballot box is easily stuffed. And they're really slow at adding non-hyped places to their ballot (they generally take 'em from newspaper reviews, with a looong lag, and the newspapers themselves aren't usually very speedy). You won't see many "finds" in Zagat...by the time non-mainstream places make it onto the ballot, are voted on, and are published, they're usually way downhill, totally past their prime.

          Also the blurbs give little practical information.

          By contrast, Chowhound is full of smart non-anonymous chowhounds who spend lots of time raking through all kinds of great food everywhere. Their info is current, smart, and richly informative. And we're interactive. Shoot, if I need to know where to eat when traveling (even sometimes in my own city!), I trust the gang here more than Zagat, more than restaurant reviews, more than anybody. And people here sign their opinions...and we trust people who've proven their savvy as much as--more than!--most critics. Tom Armitage (to pick someone here in LA) is a star!! And any of you can be, too.

          Anyway, not sure you guys saw it, but the NY Times last week said we leave Zagat "in the dust".

          ciao

          PS--Man, this was the most hypey, PR-oriented message I've ever posted. Forgive me, I'm stuck in pitch mode and I can't stop (but, hey, you guys are in LA, so you understand!!)

        3. j
          Jim Leff Jul 28, 2000 02:58 PM

          "The world needs a more reliable restaurant guide"

          Er...Michael?

          The world HAS a more reliable restaurant guide.

          Consider for a moment where you just went to voice this discontent; where you went to find kindred eaters who you knew would understand.

          ciao

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jim Leff
            s
            shane Jul 28, 2000 03:25 PM

            about the better restaurant guide...while in the famous Powell's bookstore in Portland, OR I decided to compare the various other Eclectic Guides, and I found that despite the other editions having more than Jim's 150-reviews, the books were not seemingly researched with the same bent that Jim's was and didn't seem to be aimed at ferreting out unusual spots that would otherwise slip beneath the radar.

            For instance, the EGLA, contained reviews of both Spagos, which is from my understanding THE chic/high-end deal in town. Not really worthy of space in an alternative restaurant-guide.

            Jim, you should be proud of your heartfelt opus.

            1. re: shane
              j
              Jim leff Jul 28, 2000 04:48 PM

              I'll let others judge better/worse, but my EG for NYC had considerably different tone, bent, and converage than others in the series.

              But in my last message I wasn't talking about my book, which was the product of one mind, frozen from a couple of years ago. Or any other book. I was talking about this site, where you can get up-to-the-minute cutting edge info from the smartest, most obesessed chowhounds all over the country. You don't need anything else, really.

              And while we're not transportable quite yet, you will soon be able to access us via wireless browsers. Then fahgeddaboudit

              ciao

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