Grade Inflation: Can Zagat Be Trusted?

Smart Money has an interesting article about the Zagat guide and its recent “grade inflation”:

When the Zagats started selling their 1983 New York restaurant guide, it was no mean feat for a chef to score a food rating of 20 or higher, the benchmark for “very good to excellent” in Zagat terms. Only one in four New York restaurants did so at the time. Today fully 70% reach those heights. It’s as if the bottom tier dropped out: Just over a decade ago 189 out of 1,300 New York restaurants rated 15 or below; today only 23 do, despite the fact that the guide now rates more than 1,500 restaurants. Step outside restaurants and the numbers look even more buoyant — including a rather impressive handicap in the golf guides, where two clubs have managed a perfect 30 for their courses.

The Zagats say the inflation is due to the fact that bad restaurants are cut for space. Meanwhile, they enjoy the best tables at the best restaurants and sell more copies of their guide than the paperback run of The Da Vinci Code. Why give a bad review when everything is going so well?

SmartMoney totaled the ratings in numerous Zagat guides to come up with an average for each. The average food rating for the New York restaurant guide has risen 26% since 1983, while the number of restaurants rated 25 or above in San Francisco has jumped nearly 60% in the past five years.

One reason could be that the Zagats sell costly plaques to restaurants, the higher the score…the more expensive the plaque. Hmmm. That sounds ethical. Read the rest of the Smart Money article, it’s really interesting.—MEGHANN MARCO

Zagat Grade Inflation: Should You Trust The Reviews [Smart Money] (Thanks, David!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Ass_Cobra says:

    Zagat is best used as a guide to which restaurant (s) your out of town guests/clients will be most impressed with.

  2. brooklynbs says:

    Zagat is garbage. I put zero stock in their ratings. I’d rather poke around on Chowhound and find out what people are saying.

  3. SOhp101 says:

    I prefer City Search.

  4. Hoss says:

    Zagat is entertaining and the most useful source for information dining in large cities. I pay more attention to the commentary than the ratings. The commentary is quite pointed, often witty, and is very accurate.

    As far as the celebrity treatment for the Zagats — why care? They don’t make the ratings or provide any commentary. It’s a pure survey of contributors (like me)

  5. pestie says:

    Zagat is utterly irrelevant to me. I had never even heard of it until I started reading Consumerist. You New York City folk pretty much live on a different planet, don’t you?

  6. formergr says:

    Dang, pestie, I’m in Chicago (flyover central!) and I know Zagat’s pretty well. What’s with the NYC hate?

  7. douggates says:

    Wow. I had no idea that restaurants paid for their plaques from Zagats. If this information gets out there, it will endanger the Zagats brand. Sort of like the way the “Good Housekeeping” seal of the mid-century is no longer relevant– manufacturers paid to have this on their products, and consumers eventually caught on.

    This “central authority” model is completely outdated in the Internet age. Yes, this is self-serving viewpoint. :)

  8. SexCpotatoes says:

    It’s Cosmopolitan city-hate. Us country bumpkins out in Ohio never have heard of such things.

  9. mad_oak says:

    Restaurant business is a vicious business. I’m trying to remember if it was Zagat’s or AAA Diamond that published its guide a few years back, giving raving reviews to two restaurants in Europe that HADN’T OPENED YET. (Sorry, couldn’t find the reference to the article.)

  10. pestie says:

    Chicago is an actual, honest-to-God city. I grew up in East Bumfuck, Massachusetts and moved to West Bumfuck, Florida. I’m not really one of those “city hater” types, but I do often marvel at the fact that people who live in big cities seem to take so much for granted that much of the rest of the world hasn’t even heard of.

  11. suckonthat says:

    As far as the celebrity treatment for the Zagats — why care? They don’t make the ratings or provide any commentary. It’s a pure survey of contributors (like me)

    Actually, read the article. It says that it is not even remotely a “pure survey” and that certain resturants are excluded or included. I would go into more detail, but the article really does to a really good job of it.

  12. McWatt says:

    Yelp is a far better resource for finding quality restaurants than any other source I’ve tried using. Not sure if its of any use outside of big cities though.

  13. dominantintelligence says:

    Some one needs to investigate how zagat does not let their customers cancel their online accounts online. They have to call in to a place that only has three people answering the phone.