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Updated Zagat ratings

So...I used to use Zagat quite a bit, and found that restaurants in the 28+ food category were consistently great, and 27 was usually good if not necessarily top tier.

Then, they made some sort of horrible switch to a blog format post Google takeover. Zagat became completely unusable.

Recently, they responded to the feedback and allowed users to sort by food score, etc. which makes the rating system useful again.

I noticed some changes, such as Zahav moving from a 29 (seemed high to me back in the day) to 27 (seems a point low).

Anyway, I used it to guide me to Fond (fantastic!) which was a 28 over Dandelion, whose 23 food score worried me (that's insanely low), but the high decor of Dandelion made sense. ;)

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  1. Moral of the story.. dont use zagat.. use chowhound.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cwdonald

      Problem with Zagat is that its reviewers are self-selected and tend to go to places that they like.Reviews are all skewed upward.

      And look at Ramsay's Kit. Nightmares show. Most of the wretched restaurants have a Zagat sticker on the door.

    2. Zagat's still in business? The MySpace of food sites.

      13 Replies
      1. re: tbl42

        Hope... seeing a Zagat endorsement almost makes me NOT want to eat thee.

        1. re: Cnote11

          It would be interesting to compare the Zagat ratings for Philly restaurants to those from the Philly Mag Top 50 or Craig LaBan (I was looking for my Philly guide, but I can't find it). I bet there would be a pretty good overlap, at least for fine dining.

          Not to get too far off Philly topics...I don't use Zagat's website, so I don't know how that works. But their little red books are a useful list of restaurants and cuisines for visiting a city that you are not familiar with.

          Obviously, you can get similar information by posting and researching on Chowhound, but that requires more work and the same 10 places tend to come up over and over to the exclusion of all else. IMM, Zagat is a good place to start (if available), and then move on to to the incredible breadth of Yelp, and finally Chowhound for detailed questions.

          Zagat's ranking generally correspond to everyone else's rankings too, perhaps because their contributors are overly influenced by what they hear (but we all suffer from that).

          Yelp is probably the most useful for quickly finding restaurants in cities you are visiting, simply because it covers everywhere, not just the big cities, includes maps, links... But there needs to be a critical mass of reviews for it to be reliable, and you have to use your brains to interpret them to weed out the idiots and the scammers (although the latter is not really much of a problem, <10%, and only for places that have a small number of reviews). It pretty much works like reviews on Amazon, and who would buy something on Amazon without consulting the reviews?

          I just got back from visiting a smallish seaside resort town in Florida that I've been visiting for 2 decades, and I found several good new places to try by reading Yelp (that never turned up on Chowhound in all the times I've asked for guidance over the years).

          Interestingly, a lot of restaurants in FL seemed more wedded to TripAdvisor (posting signs/links and asking customers to rate them). I use TripAdvisor for hotels and attractions/things to do, but never for restaurants, so it surprised me.

          The moral of the story is it doesn't hurt to use multiple sources of information. But at the end of the day they are just restaurants, not hospitals, so have fun and don't get stressed about it...

          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

            I think the fact that their fine dining ratings match up well with most people's rankings is what turns me off Zagat, because they tend to ignore everything else. Those types of places are no brainers to recommend and anybody who does minimal research and throws a dart could do that. The real problem with Zagat is when you get away from those restaurants. I feel that they do a poor job representing many cuisines such as Chinese, Korean, and Lebanese. To me they are not useful whatsoever. I really do mean that when I say they aren't useful AT ALL.

            Also, when it comes to yelp, I don't really pay much attention to the reviews. I prefer the restaurants that have a lot of pictures, because I can typically tell if something is for me or not by seeing the food. A lot of people on Yelp don't jive with my opinions. As you said, you have to deal with a lot of noise in the signal, with people complaining about silly things like service and how places are "sketchy". I just have different standards and I am focused on the food, where a lot of people are more focused on an experience, which isn't really my thing.

            Edit: I should note that I'm going off of their site, their lists, and the endorsements I see around the city. I've never seen one of their books. At least not that I recall. It is possible that I did and found it unremarkable.

            1. re: Cnote11

              Besides Chowhound, do you recommend any other sites over Zagat and Yelp? I like ratings since I'm a numbers guy :). I have used Gayot, but it seems fairly limited and the website is atrocious.

              I hear you about off-the-beaten path recommendations for Zagat, they're usually not listed or are very low scored. On the other hand, those fine dining establishments are well represented and IME the sushi recs for Manhattan are spot on.

              1. re: dndicicco

                The problem with most sites is they lack critical mass. That is really the advantage of Yelp (which is also very restaurant focused). Of course their discussion boards are useless compared to Chowhound. I will have to check out Zagat online to see what that is like...

                The Philly Chowhound board is just active enough to get by IMO (I may be mistaken, but it seems to have picked up in the past 3 years, but it's still pretty slow compared to some other, even smaller cities, and I've often wondered why that is.) We should all go out and direct our friends here (I know a lot of Philly foodies, but I think only 2 of them actually post here)!

                1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                  Here here. I just found this board, but have been an amateur foodie for a while and know tons of others who are but they don't necessarily voice their opinions online. Yelp probably attracts most of the casual restaurant goers but I view these boards as a higher level. I may be biased, but I think Philly restaurants are up to snuff with most of the rest of the country and better than most of the others.

                2. re: dndicicco

                  I would caution you about ratings in general because there are cognitive biases involved. Some people may consistently give a five to all restaurants they review, and only review good restaurants. I have no idea what makes a bad experience for that person. Ratings from a single contributor compared make sense but when you take a sight like yelp or urbanspoon i ignore the star ratings and look for the criticisms and the dishes that are mentioned the most. Gayot, Zagat, Fodors etc may give you a list of places to consider for a tourist but really are only a starting point, and if your goal is to eat where locals eat and the tourists don't will not be that helpful.

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    Ne, when I read yelp reviews I'm really looking for content in the review and not so much the star rating. I think it is incredibly limiting to look solely at what is rated the highest. A lot of things people knock stars off for or add stars for are highly relative, so it isn't a good idea to gauge your opinion of places based on star reviews. I mainly look at pictures as stated and look to see what dishes are offered, as you do.. One thing I must mention is reviews of Chinese food on Yelp can sometimes lead to lower star ratings due to many yelpers deciding to judge the restaurants based on their General Tao chicken or some other American-Chinese dish that many of the places here do not do well whatsoever. If you take the reviews into consideration, this is a huge reason why actually going through the reviews is incredibly worthwhile, Many people are also deceitful. Whether this is intentional or not, I do not always know. I saw a review for Sang Kee where a guy got bad service and he went home and looked up the health records and posted false information on Yelp about the restaurant. The health records he was reviewing were actually those for the Sang Kee Noodle House in West Philadelphia, but in his want to seek revenge on the restaurant for his bad night he (willfully or not) posted false material in an attempt to smear the restaurant.

                    Reviews for Chinese food are difficult here in America, as I find a lot of the reviews turn it into a weird fetishized thing with authenticity and what not, when really their information is completely wrong and they are working from a false paradigm. I really could write a hundred essays about the odd way many people view and treat Chinese food here in America, but this is not the space for it. I see this with Italian-American vs Italian cuisine as well e.g. "They don't REALLY eat meatballs with pasta in Italy!" (This isn't true).

                    I'm with PhillyBestBYOB when they mention that the board is less active than other cities - even the smaller ones. I was just thinking this last night and I find this to be true of ALL things to do with Philadelphia. For instance, if I go to a concert I notice that nobody really posts anything from it, nobody uploads setlists to setlist.fm, etc... but nearly every other city will do this. I find it to be a bit strange and I am a bit dismayed by it. I don't know whether it is a lack of passion or a lack of willing to branch out, or something else entirely.

                    Back to Yelp, I notice many restaurants that open that have still not even been added to the database. I really think that Yelp for Philadelphia in general isn't bad, but a LOT of things are overlooked and I find that very disappointing. It really isn't a large city and many of these restaurants are in areas with other highly reviewed restaurants and yet, still nothing. Something makes me think this is more restricted to certain neighborhoods and certain establishments that do nothing to draw in the demographics that Yelpers typically make up.

                    1. re: Cnote11

                      Any restaurant not in the database can be added by an active yelper.

                      The activity on different different chowhound boards is more driven by the nature of the dialogue than the size of the city. Some boards are more cliquish. When you have posters attacking other posters opinions you will discourage new people to join the conversation. If people want more participation, they need to be more welcoming and accepting. If they want to keep a cliquish elitist nature you will see the same posters over and over and over dominating conversations.

                      1. re: cwdonald

                        I think that the wealth of quality food blogs makes the board here less useful than other cities. If you follow Michael Klein, eater, meal ticket not to mention others you will be on top of openings, closings, chef and menu changes, etc.

                        1. re: barryg

                          BarryG I agree about knowing what's new and changes but what about information about dining experiences. Laban only reviews so many. Eater and meal ticket get lest pub for their actual restaurant reviews (probably review fewer because of a smaller budget) don't you agree there is a need for more information on how restaurants are doing?

                        2. re: cwdonald

                          Ne, I'm aware of that. That was basically my point, being that nobody ever adds these restaurants and I am left to speculate why.

                3. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                  I dislike yelp because most reviews attempt to be clever and just end up irritating. The 'cool' and 'funny' votes don't help.

                  Sometimes I worry that my range of restaurants is too narrow because I rely mainly on Craig LaBan's reviews and what I see posted here on Chowhound, but there are so many restaurants in Philly there's no time to visit them all and go back to the ones I know I like...