NEW YORK (RestaurantMagazine.com) Zagat released the results of its 2011 New York City Restaurant Survey today, revealing that the dining scene is still sluggish two years after the Great Recession. A majority of this year’s crop of 123 noteworthy newcomers are casual in style and modest in price. The new guide, available in bookstores, online and via Zagat’s mobile products, covers a record 2,115 restaurants as voted on by 40,569 avid, local diners. Hundreds more restaurants are on ZAGAT.com.
Tough Times: This year the average cost of a meal in New York is $41.76, a marginal decrease from $41.81 last year. (The first decrease since 2002, i.e. right after 9/11.) Reflecting the continuing difficult market conditions, 27% of surveyors report that they are eating out less than they were six months ago, while only 11% say they are eating out more. Also declining are meals eaten out/taken out, 52% this year compared to 60% in 2005, and the average meals out per surveyor is 3.0 times a week, down from 3.3 pre-recession.
Better Times: There’s another side to this coin: when asked to rate New York’s overall dining scene, surveyors gave Hospitality a 17 on Zagat’s 30-point scale and Table Availability a 14, up from 15 and 13, respectively, pre-recession. Simultaneously, complaints about crowding and noise dropped to 23%, down from 33% pre-recession, and restaurants are adjusting to meet diners’ changing needs: this year’s Survey includes 657 eateries that offer dinner for less than $30, and 434 offering dinner for less than $25. Moreover, 200 have bargain prix fixe menus.
“New Yorkers are feeling the lasting effects of the economic crisis and we’re seeing some fundamental changes in their dining habits as a result. Since 2008 we’ve noted a steep decline in the number of meals eaten out per week and an increase in the number of meals cooked at home,” said Tim Zagat, CEO, Zagat Survey. “The best restaurants will continue to be full, but the era, of the 30-day wait is over, and casual, less expensive restaurants have come to dominate the market.”
And the Winners Are: The winners are Eric Ripert’s “unmatched” French seafooder Le Bernardin (Top Food), the “uber-stylish” Asiate (Top Decor) in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Thomas Keller’s “once-in-a-lifetime” Per Se (Top Service), all scoring a rare 29 on Zagat’s 30-point scale for their respective categories. Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern is Most Popular for the sixth time in 10 years, and his Italian Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel is this year’s No. 1 rated newcomer.
Top Cuisine Upsets: Brooklyn, which long ago earned its stripes as a culinary mecca, is home to an unprecedented number of top cuisine winners, many by upset (see *s): BBQ – Fette Sau; Chinese – Pacificana*; Deli – Mile End* (overthrowing perennial winner Barney Greengrass); Middle Eastern – Tanoreen; Pizza – Di Fara; Southern – Egg; Steak – Peter Luger (for 27th consecutive year); and Turkish – Taci’s Beyti*. Other upsets in the top cuisine ranks include Cascabel* – Top Mexican, Dirt Candy* – Top Vegetarian and Marea* – Top Italian.
Newcomers: With 123 openings and plenty more scheduled, the industry offers signs of vibrancy. However, the new business paradigm seems to be reflected in restaurants such as sandwich specialists Meatball Shop, Salume, Tartinery and This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef; pizza places Campo de’ Fiorio and Olio; Korean fried chicken specialists Kyochon and Bon Chon Chicken; and burger joints Bill’s Bar & Burger, Henry Public, Patty & Bun and St. Anselm.
Hotel Dining: Many exciting chefs and restaurateurs have opened ventures in hotels this past year: The Breslin (April Bloomfield, Ace Hotel); Faustina (Scott Conant, Cooper Square Hotel); Lambs Club (Geoffrey Zakarian, Chatwal Hotel); Le Caprice (Michael Hartnell, Pierre Hotel); Maialino (Danny Meyer, Gramercy Park); Ma Peche (David Chang, Chambers) and The Mark (Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mark Hotel). This business model works because a good restaurant helps a hotel’s room rates. In turn, the hotel provides favorable rents, financing and, of course, guaranteed clientele.
Techies at the Table: While 81% feel it’s acceptable to take pictures of their food and few object, 64% say it’s “rude and inappropriate” to text, e-mail, tweet or talk on a mobile phone at a restaurant. A full 37% of surveyors typically make their dinner reservations online, up from 24% just two years ago, and 20% report having downloaded restaurant-related apps on their smartphone.
Keep on Truckin’: Food trucks are new to this year’s Survey. Twenty-six percent of surveyors report eating from gourmet food trucks at least occasionally, while only 9% say they would never. Eleven percent of surveyors report following food trucks on social networking sites like Twitter. The top three food trucks are Wafels & Dinges, Street Sweets, and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream.
Health and Greening: NYC’s Health Department adopted a letter-grade system this year. The system requires the prominent posting of inspection results – a move that surveyors approve of by an 83% to 17% margin. A full 42% feel the government should require restaurants to reduce the amount of salt in their dishes but 49% oppose a tax on sugary drinks. When it comes to greening, 61% of surveyors think food should be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised and 49% are willing to pay more for it.
The Last Meal: When asked where they would like to have the last meal of their lives, surveyors’ top mentions overall were home, followed by New York City and Paris. The top restaurant mentions were Per Se, Peter Luger and Daniel.
Details: The 2011 New York City Restaurants guide ($15.95) was edited by Carol Diuguid and Curt Gathje and coordinated by Larry Cohn. For information on Zagat’s mobile products, please visit http://www.zagat.com/mobile. Both the guidebook and the digital products break top lists out by cuisine type, neighborhood and other special features. Be sure to follow Zagat on Facebook and Twitter @ZagatBuzz 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.com, ZAGAT.mobi, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in book form.