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Zagat 2012 America’s Top Restaurants Survey Reveals 81% of Diners

Zagat 2012 America’s Top Restaurants Survey Reveals 81% of Diners Support Posting Health Letter Grades

Per 156,000 respondents, 45% of Meals are Eaten Out/Taken Out, Down From 52% Pre-Recession; Average Meal Cost Increases Less Than 1%; Diners Dislike Noisy Neighbors and Lingering at the Table

NEW YORK, Oct. 25, 2011 - Today, Zagat released its 2012 America’s Top Restaurants Survey, covering 1,578 of the nation’s top restaurants across 45 major markets. The new guide incorporates the votes of over 156,000 food lovers who dined out an estimated 25 million times in the past year, i.e., 3.1 times per week. The Survey results are available in bookstores, at and on Zagat’s mobile products.

Easy as A-B-C: Echoing the overwhelming support in cities like New York and Los Angeles, 81% of surveyors nationwide are in favor of restaurants being required to post their health department letter grades. Moreover, a majority of diners in major cities report that letter grades influence their dining decisions and most will eat only at restaurants that earn a B or better (88% in NYC, 84% in San Francisco, 92% in Los Angeles). Below is a city-by-city breakdown showing support for letter grades:

  — Arizona - 73%
  — Atlanta - 90%
  — Boston - 74%
  — Charlotte - 91%
  — Chicago - 81%
  — Connecticut - 80%
  — DC/Baltimore - 83%
  — Denver - 71%
  — Detroit - 75%
  — Hawaii - 78%
  — Kansas City - 76%
  — Las Vegas - 91%
  — Long Island - 85%
  — Los Angeles - 95%
  — Minneapolis - 70%
  — New Jersey - 83%
  — New Orleans - 69%
  — New York City - 85%
  — Ohio - 79%
  — Orlando/Mid. Fl. - 77%
  — Philadelphia - 81%
  — Portland, OR - 80%
  — Sacramento - 84%
  — Salt Lake City - 74%
  — San Diego - 93%
  — San Francisco - 79%
  — Seattle - 73%
  — St. Louis - 91%
  — Texas - 80%

“Our surveyors’ support for the display of health department letter grades has grown as fast as support for the smoking bans a few years ago,” said Tim Zagat, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Zagat. “By requiring restaurants to maintain sanitary environments, these laws are benefitting the overall safety of the consumer.”


Dining Out Stabilizes: The national average of meals out per week held steady at 3.1 - the same as last year, but still down from 3.3 pre-recession. Texans eat out the most, with Houston (4.0), Austin (3.8), Dallas/Ft. Worth (3.6) and San Antonio (3.5) leading the national pack, while diners who eat out the least hail from the east coast, e.g. Washington, DC/Baltimore (2.6), Philadelphia (2.5) and Boston (2.5).


Spending and Tipping: This year, 27% of diners report spending more per meal compared to a year ago, while 14% report spending less. On average, U.S. diners are spending $35.65 per meal, a slight increase from last year’s average of $35.37. This represents the lowest annual inflation in five years. The average annual inflation in meal costs over the past 10 years has been 2.9%; since the recession, the average inflation has dropped to 1.4%. The most expensive dining in the nation is in Las Vegas, with an average meal cost of $47.53. Looking at the twenty most expensive restaurants in each city, NYC leads with an average cost of $163.34. The most affordable dining can be found in New Orleans at $28.36. Coincidentally, New Orleans diners are the nation’s best tippers, leaving an average of 19.7% (vs. the national average of 19.2%). West Coast diners (San Francisco, Seattle, Hawaii, LA, Sacramento and San Diego) remain the least generous tippers at 18.6 to 18.9%.


Noisy Neighbors: While service again tops the list of dining-out irritants (cited by 66% this year), the Survey shows a rise in complaints about noise/crowds, which is now at 16%, up from 12% five years ago. When asked what they would do if seated next to noisy neighbors, 54% of diners surveyed would ignore them, 32% say they would ask to be moved and 10% would ask the manager to speak to them. Only a bold 4% would confront their neighbors and ask them to quiet down. While 36% of diners said they avoid communal tables, an equal 35% said they love meeting new people and would chat with their neighbors, 19% said they would only chat with their neighbors if they overheard something interesting and 10% would “pretend there was an invisible wall.”


Chef Spotlight: Surveyors are split in their opinions of celebrity chefs - 40% say a famous chef makes them more likely to dine at a restaurant, while 57% say that has no effect. Still, many of this year’s restaurant premieres are associated with well-known names, including Boston’s Menton (Barbara Lynch), Chicago’s Next (Grant Achatz), Atlantic City’s Scarduzio’s (Chris Scarduzio), Miami’s DB Bistro Moderne (Daniel Boulud) and Makoto (Stephen Starr), NYC’s The Dutch (Andrew Carmellini) and Red Rooster (Marcus Samuelsson) and San Francisco’s Michael Mina.


That’s Amore: Although French and Japanese claim the top food spot in more than one-third of the 45 markets covered in the Survey, Italian is the most popular cuisine, with 27% of respondents nationwide citing it as their favorite, followed by American (18%), French (12%), Japanese (10%) and Mexican (10%).


Extra Bites: When dining at a restaurant that does not take reservations, a full 67% of surveyors nationwide would be willing to wait no more than 30 minutes for a table, while 12% said no more than an hour. Regarding restaurants with “cash-only” policies, 40% of diners avoid them while 12% say it makes them spend or tip less. And despite the proliferation of group buying sites, 56% of say they rarely/never engage in these programs.


Top Restaurants: The list of top restaurants in Zagat’s major markets includes the following:


  Atlanta -
    Bacchanalia Honolulu - Sushi Sasabune     Philadelphia - Vetri
  ——- ——  ———
    City -
    Homestead   Houston - Le Mistral       Phoenix/Scottsdale - Kai
  —-  ———      —-
  Austin -
    Uchi       Kansas City - Justus Drugstore Portland, OR - Painted Lady
  -    ————
    Charleston   Las Vegas - Joel Robuchon     Sacramento - Taste
  —-  ——  ——
  Boston -
    O Ya       Long Island - North Fork Table Salt Lake City - Mariposa
  -    ———
    Barrington’s Los Angeles - Matsuhisa     San Antonio - Dough
  ————    ——-
  Chicago -
    Nomades     Milwaukee - Roots         San Diego - Market
  —  —-        ——
    Cincinnati   Minneapolis/St. Paul -La
    -Boca       Belle Vie               San Francisco - Gary Danko
  —— ——  ——-
    Francois   Naples, FL - Cote d’Azur     Seattle - Cafe Juanita
  —  —-    -
    ?Antibes   New Jersey - Nicholas       St. Louis - Niche
  —        —-
    Cafe       New Orleans - Bayona       Tampa/Sarasota - Beach Bistro
  —————      -
    Worth -
    Bonnell’s   New York City - Le Bernardin   Tucson - Fleming’s Prime
  —-    —-
    Area -
    Fruition   Orange County - Marche Moderne Washington, DC - Marcel’s
  —  ———
  Detroit -
    Lark       Orlando - Victoria & Albert’s West./HRV - Sushi Nanase
  —  - —-


Details: The 2012 America’s Top Restaurants guide ($15.95) was edited by Bill Corsello. Ratings and reviews are available in print, online at and via Zagat’s mobile products. Be sure to follow Zagat on Facebook and Twitter @Zagat for daily news and updates.


About Zagat Survey, LLC: Known as the “burgundy bible,” Zagat Survey is the world’s most trusted source for consumer-generated survey information. With a worldwide network of surveyors, Zagat rates and reviews restaurants, hotels, nightlife, movies, music, golf, shopping and a range of other entertainment categories and is lauded as the “most up-to-date,” “comprehensive” and “reliable” guide, published on all platforms. Zagat content is available to consumers wherever and whenever they need it: on,, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in book form. In September of 2011, Zagat was acquired by Google Inc.



SOURCE Zagat Survey

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Posted on Oct 25, 2011 - 06:08 AM • Print