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Zagat Bashing


Deacon
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I am willing to credit anyone who is willing to take the time and effort to respond to Zagat as someone who warrants a say in the matter.

That's because you are trusting, considerate, and open-minded.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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"That's because you are trusting, considerate, and open-minded."

Fat Guy - It's about time you figured that out :biggrin:. Actually I don't see Zagat being *so wrong* compared to other reviewers. I think William Grimes is off more than Zagat is. And I don't think Zagat holds itself out to be anything more than a popularity contest among a better educated reviewer. If you happen to be the gastronomic equivelent of their mean (or is it median) reviewer, good for you. If you are worse, than the guide is a big help. And if you are better, so what. You have to adjust it for being too mass-market. What's so terrible about that?

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Wow - I've been called illogical and silly all in one morning - "you guys" must be finally getting to know me. :wacko::wacko::wacko::blink::rolleyes::wub::wub:

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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"Nader-like appeals to democracy and "the people."  . . . It is as if the editors of Consumer Reports were to declare that their patient, meticulous, objective, and very expensive testing of air conditioners and washing machines actually resulted in a less accurate product guide than one based solely on the random and self-selected reports of buyers, whose opinions alone they would henceforth solicit. An unfairly loaded contrast, inasmuch as Nader's reputation was built on a CR-like exposure of auto defects, even though he didn't have the same elaborate research facilities to back them up."

This is a bit off topic but illustrates the fact that a little knowledge is sometimes just a little knowledge. Ralph Nader made his reputation on "Unsafe at Any Speed" in which he exposed purported defects in the Chevy Corvair. In reality, the real work was done by the late attorney Dave Harney who tried 7 or 8 Corvair cases before finally beating GM's attorney, John Costanzo. As I understand it, the young Mr. Nader was fortunate enough to trail behind Mr. Harney and get the info he needed for his book. In its own way, Zagat relies on reviewers who reiterate the opinions of critics, particularly with respect to high end places.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Zagat guides are pretty useful in towns that you haven't been in. Of course the numbers for Phoenix and St. Louis are inflated relative to NYC. Nonetheless, they are a good geiger counter for detecting whether a restaurant is worth your exploration.

The simple bias correction that I use is subtract 4-5 points in all cities but NYC, SF, and New Orleans. Within cities it's just trial and error. However, I've found some pretty good restaurants through Zagat that I would have never found otherwise.

What are the alternatives for smaller cities:

1)The concierge - usually not as good as Zagat. Usually doesn't eat at the restaurants they recommend.

2) CitySearch - not as many respondants, and since one would assume similar qualifications to Zagat readers, that would mean less validity. Although you can read individual comments which might help.

3) Gayout - I wish they covered more of the US

4) Frommers/Fodors - Usually out of date

5) Local Newspapers - I never seem to trust 'em

6) Personal recommendations - great if that's your goal, but if you have geographic or price or cuisine parameters, not always available.

I also prefer Zagat to both the Nielsen ratings and the electoral college. (I wish I could ignore them both).

beachfan

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My problem with Zagat is that there is no comparability between scores. Each restaurant is scored by a different set of people. This is most evident between different cities as noted, but I would assert that even the customers at La Grenouille are systematically different than Le Bernardin and althought there is overlap, there is also plenty of non-overlap. Comparing scores of restaurants scored by different self-selected groups is essentially meaningless.

By the way -- Isn't Le Cirque 2000 also still on the NYT 4 star list?

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I would agree with Beachfan that Zagat is a useful first stop - in the absence of reliable personal advice - if you need a restaurant recommendation for a city you don't know. The guides pick out fairly unerringly the best, upscale dining experience in North American cities. Zagat (in pre-eGullet days) took me to Goodfellows in Minneapolis, Rover's in Seattle, Truffles in Toronto, Norman's in Miami (the names, god, the names...) and so on. Unsuprising recommendations, and a good concierge might have pointed me that way, but the Zagat route worked. In New York, Zagat would point you to Daniel or Le Bernardin - fair enough.

Zagat is much less good at distinguishing between second tier restaurants in cities where there are a lot to choose from. The obvious howlers in New York: Oceana is better than Cello! Aureole is as good as Gramercy Tavern! Le Grenouille is as good as Lespinasse! All of those are better than Babbo, as is Union Square Cafe, which is also better than ADNY! And I'm talking about the food rating. This is systematic nonsense, to say nothing of the eccentric presence of that pesky soup kitchen at the top of the gastronomic tree.

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OK, but if the Zagat reviewers simply "parrot the current critical opinion," then they ARE (secondhand) giving informed ratings. It's not firsthand knowledge based on personal experience, but it should, by that logic, be just as reliable as the original critic.

Zagat's not exactly the voice of the great unwashed, either. Assume that a reviewer is giving his own opinion, and not someone else's, and you assume a reviewer base with enough money to spend on restaurants, which runs into quite a bit of money if done regularly. Almost a luxury item--DEFINITELY a luxury if you're talking about ADNY, Lespinasse, Le Bernardin, etc. Those who eat out at the high end of the spectrum presumably have more money and time to travel and eat out, so their mind-set would put them closer to a professional critic. Perhaps this explains the "skew" in Zagat at the lower levels, simply because those who eat-out at the middle and low end have far fewer opportunities to go to ADNY. You would expect chains, which are everywhere, to get higher scores from these people than they would get from a professional critic. That's where they go more often, because that's what they can afford on a regular basis, as opposed to rarely going upscale for a special event.

I'm not embracing Zagat wholeheartedly, just pointing out what I thought was an exception to the usual middle-brow scores when it came to certain expensive restaurants in certain cities on the high end of the scale.

As far as a "29" in New York City equalling a "29" in Minneapolis, I don't think the ratings are valid when comparing restaurants in different cities, but only internally, ranking one restaurant against another in the same town. Since most people use their own city's guide most often, this works out most of the time. "30" is the hypothetical best, regardless of which city you're in, but it means something different in NYC than it does in Denver.

(pause to read part of John Whiting's "Bunfight" thread)

Eating out is an EXPENSIVE hobby. Eating out at the finest places is very much a function of how much money you have to spend. At the risk of actually agreeing with Comrade Whiting, I think that perhaps a lot of the backlash against the rank-and-file Zagat reviewers is that they ARE rating the middle of the scale higher than merit would indicate. But this is due to the fact that they have less money to spend on the high end of the scale.

*sarcasm* And why should the great unwashed venture their opinion, and have it rated as validly as someone who dines (not "eats") at Le Bernardin or ADNY regularly? Why, this is blatant egalitarianism (as opposed to eGulletarianism)! Here they come, storming the Winter Palace, waving copies of Tim and Nina's Little Red Books, holding banners that read "I (heart) Bennigan's," "I (heart) TGIFriday's"!!! We're all doomed! *sarcasm off*

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting topic. The problem with Zagat is that alot of the votes

are cast upon hearsay, innuendo's, shallow palates and a lack of understanding

of ethnic restaurants. Let me explain. Back in the late 1980's one

of my friends who worked as a stringer for the AP in Honolulu, Hawaii

happened to help edit the first ZAGAT HAWAII edition. This person

wasn't a foodie at all. Her biggest gourmand accomplishment was

discovering Japanese "Furikake" from the import section of the local

supermarket. Oh..how novel, Japanese fish flakes for topping on

rice..how utterly quaint!

This so called friend hung out in the usual haunts for yuppies in

Honolulu. Bland Cali-mex food at Comprades located in Ward Warehouse

which, surprise-surprise had a huge rating in the first edition of ZAGAT

HAWAII. BUZZ's Steak House in Kailua; one of her old hang outs.

The ethnic food section was the filled with the usual suspects that

entertained the middle ground for Asian fare for the non-Asian.

Off course the old classic - SADA Restaurant was included because my

friend accidently ate Sushi there, and liked it.

Anyway- the entire first edition of ZAGAT HAWAII was composed of

restaurant impressions for the non- foodie. Where were the listings

of the Korean restaurants or Chinese restaurants? etc...

Following editions of ZAGAT HAWAII mainly featured the original

restaurants from the first edition, unless they closed. The newer

editions featured glossy magazine restaurants that everybody

heard were good- "Alan Wong", "Roy Yamaguchi" , "Sam Choy".

I suppose ZAGAT get's the job done;but it's too conservative IMHO.

I don't like the middle ground approach in dining. It's the same

way I feel about big blockbuster Hollywood films.

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