Zagat Survey today released the results of the 2008 New York City Restaurants survey, its 29th annual guide. The new 2008 guide is Zagat's most comprehensive ever, covering 2,069 restaurants with input from a record 34,678 frequent diners who collectively bring roughly six million meals worth of experience to the survey. Reflecting another boom year in NYC dining, 56% of the surveyors report spending more than last year versus only 6% spending less. In another sign of strength, there were 234 notable openings versus only 88 closings in the past year. While overall prices have remained flat since 9/11, at the high end of the dining spectrum, there has been dramatic inflation.
Tim Zagat, co-Founder and CEO of Zagat Survey, stated, "The city continues to add to its remarkable roster of restaurants in just about every cuisine imaginable. That the average restaurant remains so affordable should be celebrated. Based on our surveys in 87 major markets, there is little doubt that New York is the 'Dining Capital of the World.'"
The Scene in a Nutshell:
Rating New York City's overall dining scene, surveyors gave a 27 out of a possible 30 for choice/diversity and a 24 for creativity, but a mere 13 for table availability and a 15 for hospitality. This dramatic discrepancy is confirmed by the fact that 50% of surveyors cite service as the most irritating part of the dining experience, followed by noise/crowds (34%) and then prices (11%). Quite simply, the kitchens of New York far exceed the front of the houses when it comes to consumer satisfaction.
And the Winners Are:
Daniel has reclaimed the top spot for Food from Le Bernardin, now number 3. Number 2, Sushi Yasuda, is the highest-ranking Japanese restaurant in the history of the NYC survey. Union Square Cafe has returned as the Most Popular restaurant -- overtaking its sibling Gramercy Tavern for the first time since 2004, Asiate has Top Decor honors and Per Se Top Service for the third consecutive year. Gordon Ramsay, whose U.K. reputation has hit some speed bumps recently, took this year's Top Newcomer honors.
Besides Gordon Ramsay, notable newcomers include Top Chef Harold Dieterle's Perilla, the ultimate Texas BBQ Hill Country, Gray Kunz's semi- eponymous Grayz, downtown dessert bar Tailor and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's red-hot, still in "previews," Waverly Inn. Other startups showcase the wide range of ethnic and other cuisines available to New Yorkers including Anthos and Kefi (Greek), Insieme and Morandi (Italian), Resto (Belgian), Mai House (Vietnamese), Mercat and Pamplona (Spanish), Smoke Joint (BBQ) and Kobe Club and STK (steakhouses) to name just a few.
Getting Your Money's Worth:
While overall restaurant prices in NYC remain the highest in the U.S. at $39.46 per dinner, that's only three cents higher than last year. This is consistent with NYC's annual dining inflation averaging 0.97% since 9/11. Credit for keeping the average cost steady goes to a slew of inexpensive newcomers and to the 697 restaurants in this year's guide that offer dinner for under $30. However, inflationary trends look quite different at the city's 20 most expensive restaurants where an average meal now runs $143.06. Since 2001, dinner prices at the city's elite have soared at an average of 11.6% per year, from $84.45 to $143.06.
New Yorkers Are um, Average:
While the cost of local dining may lead the nation, most New Yorkers will be surprised to learn that they are 'just average' in other areas. Local tipping now averages 19% per check - barely above Zagat's U.S. average (18.9%). Among the nation's most generous customers are Philadelphia (19.4%), New Orleans (19.3%) and New Jersey (19.2%) with left-coasters in San Francisco and Los Angeles being among the least generous at 18.4%. When it comes to who eats out most, New Yorkers are also average at 3.3 times per week, which is also the U.S. average. Texans take a clean sweep for dining out most, with Houston at 4.2 times per week, and Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin/Hill Country both 4.0 times per week.
Increasing Reliance on the Internet:
While 72% of surveyors still call when making reservations, 17% now reserve online - a 10% increase since 2005. Another surprise is that fully two-thirds of surveyors state that they like to preview a restaurant's menu online before reserving. The ability to both review restaurant menus and reserve a table for free at over 4,000 restaurants is available on www.zagat.com. Zagat has also recently launched its mobile website, ZAGAT.mobi, allowing those with browser-enabled cell phones and wireless PDAs to access restaurant, hotel and nightlife information as well as the ability to direct dial the restaurant by a single click, text the information to a friend and even find other restaurants nearby in case you change your mind.
A Scene Grows in Brooklyn:
This year three Brooklyn restaurants have made the Top 20 Food list. Williamsburg's Peter Luger led, scoring a 28 out of a possible 30 for its food and ranking as the city's No. 1 steakhouse for the 24th consecutive year. Di Fara (Midwood), with a 27 rating, was No. 1 for NYC pizza and Saul (Boerum Hill), also a 27, is the city's 4th best American. With 30 new Brooklyn entries, this year's guide now includes a record 185 Kings County restaurants, highlighted in a new Brooklyn dining map.
High Times for Low Food:
In 2007 some less-than-sophisticated food groups got haute spins. Barbecue caught its second wind with the arrivals of Fette Sau, Georgia's Eastside BBQ, Hill Country, Johnny Utah's, Smoke Joint and Southern Hospitality. Likewise, the basic burger was reinterpreted at brgr, Five Guys, 67 Burger and Stand. Even top toques such as Laurent Tourondel (BLT Burger) and Daniel Boulud are opening burger joints.
More than ever local and sustainably raised produce is of concern to Zagat surveyors, e.g. 52% of them said they were willing "to pay more" for food that is sustainably raised and 50% say the same for food that's organic. At the same time, more restaurants are showcasing greenmarket-driven menus, including Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, which is back as the top spot for popularity, as well as newcomers BLT Market, Borough Food & Drink and Flatbush Farm, all of which feature locally-raised produce.
Small Is the New Big:
Small-plate menus are cropping up all around town including those at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Degustation and Perbacco, despite the fact that 75% of those surveyed think traditional standard-plate menus provide a better value. Additionally, smaller, more intimate neighborhood restaurants like Cafe Cluny, Insieme, Klee Brasserie, Morandi and Waverly Inn are outpacing last year's theatrical, mega-restaurants such as Buddakan, Craftsteak, Del Posto and Morimoto.
The rise of these neighborhood restaurants has led to another trend - the dressing down of dining out. White tablecloths and dress codes continue to lose ground with the loss of fine dining establishments like Alain Ducasse, Lenox Room and March, with not a single formal restaurant among this year's crop of 234 newcomers.
Despite the fact that 30% of surveyors chose Italian as their favorite cuisine, restaurants serving French cuisine continue to score the highest. Six of the top 10 food rated restaurants serve French cuisine: Daniel, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Bouley, Chanterelle and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. While only 13% prefer Japanese cuisine, Sushi Yasuda (No. 2) and Sushi Seki (No. 9) also made the top 10 list for food. In contrast, Chinese restaurants have stalled - not one made the top 50 food list where 9 Japanese currently reside.
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