Good story find on Eater.com. Ed Levine calls out Tim Zagat, who’s influential in the NY restaurant world, for the Zagat Guide’s naming Telepan the best newcomer restaurant in NY.   The Zagats live five minutes from the restaurant, according to Levine, a respected NY food writer, and it would not be unreasonable to presume that they’re regulars (Telepan is indeed highly regarded).  If the Zagats’ personal patronage of the restaurant played a part in the decision, this would be significant information.

But what if Telepan is, in fact, definitively, the best new restaurant in NY?  Should it be denied consideration simply because the Zagats live nearby?  Or even go there all the time?

Regardless, the Zagat guide is influential enough that the owners ought to offer a forthright description of the influence of their personal opinions on a guide that bills itself as a survey of restaurant goers.  Levine puts it more directly: “at some point he should fess up that his personal preferences and opinions matter more than other individual Zagat surveyors.”

I agree—this is a good call.

Update: Tim Zagat wastes no time in responding.

And meg noted they’re taking heat from the NY Post as well.

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5 Wonderful responses to “Questioning the Zagats”

  • fiat lux

    Zagat has a rebuttal up in the comments now.

    *shrug* Even if it’s true, you could just call it “getting back to their roots”. Some longtime NYers remember seeing the old, old Zagat Guide — which was basically a list of restuarants Tim & Nina liked on a sheet of paper. (I wish my parents had kept their copies; they might be worth a few bucks on eBay as a collector’s item).

  • Michael Nagrant

    Maybe I’m just a sucker, but I’ve always believed that over the last few years the ratings in the guide are reflective of the voters and not the individual publishers as Zagat responds.

    Sure, the whole Telepan staff might have voted ten times each in order to pad their standing, but it’s a good bet that the other restaurants did too. That should still be a wash in a pool of 30,000 votes.

    I find it more interesting that Levine is so quick to pull the trigger and criticize, unless of course he knows something, i.e. the surveys really are influenced by Zagat. If he knows that, he should explicitly say so, otherwise, he’s practicing shotgun journalism, the petty sensationalist kind that gives blogging a bad name.

  • Bux

    Does it matter? If you are someone who has come to rely on the Zagat Surveys as a guide to where to eat, does it matter who sets the standards? By the same token, if you find the ratings capricious and arbitrary, why pay much attention to them.

    At best, the surveys are something of a popularity contest and an inaccurate reflection of public opinion from a sampling of questionable sources. We don’t know who participates and who doesn’t. There’s little protection against ballot box stuffing, other than to say that any restaurant who needs that sort of attention is free to try.

    One has to be very far removed from the local restaurant scene to first hear about a restaurant via the local survey, or believe any listing is the last word about a restaurant.

    I’m far more troubled by stories I’ve heard about the Zagat’s throwing their weight around in terms of their own dining interests. I was once waiting for a table when I witnessed Tim complaining about a restaurant losing his reservation. Of course restaurants do misplace reservations and I would be wrong to cite his fuss as an abuse. If I recall correctly, they found him a table and I was impressed that the restaurant even managed to say they didn’t have a reservation for him. On the other hand, even at restaurants at which we were unknown, I’ve had reservations get lost and yet the restaurant showed the consideration of finding room for us.

    I suppose Zagat is always a legitimate target of suspicion simply because he’s a public figure in the restaurant world. I’m not surprised Ed made his point, although I’d be curious to know if he thought Telepan was misplaced on that list, by his own culinary standards. I am surprised he looks forward to the new guide every year. It’s not the Michelin and even that seems to have less importance each year, even in France.

  • Chef Frog

    What about restaurants like Gary Danko’s in San Francisco who has their office workers go online every day and vote 30s straight across the board for their restaurant. Anyone who has eaten at Danko’s knows that it’s one of San Francisco’s premiere dining destinations, but still, maybe popular survey isn’t the best way to rate top restaurants. It’s kinda like having everyone who watches the Olympics go online and vote for the athlete they think should win the gold medal; chances are, the most deserving athlete won’t win.