Zagat has released the results of its 2011 Seattle Restaurants Survey, covering 828 eateries in the Seattle area based on the collective opinions of 2,970 local diners. All told, surveyors ate out some 448,000 times in the past year. The Survey results are available on ZAGAT.com, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in guides at major booksellers.
Bottom Line: The average cost of a meal in Seattle has increased from $27.68 in 2008 to $29.33 this year. But Seattle is still the second most affordable dining locale that Zagat surveys in the country. Only New Orleans is less expensive. In comparison, the national average is $35.32. As in other West Coast cities, Seattle diners are low tippers, leaving an average 18.6%. Comparatively, the national average tip is 19.2% with residents of East Coast cities like Philadelphia (19.6%), Boston (19.4%) and Washington, DC (19.3%), consistently, and inexplicably, tipping more. Overall, dining out is down this year, as 25% of diners report eating out less compared with six months ago, and the number of meals eaten/taken out dropping to 42% from 45% in 2008.
“Although dining out in Seattle was already a comparative bargain, the number of inexpensive, casual newcomers this year has turned a good deal into a great deal,” said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey.
Cravings: Due in part to their quality and affordability, food trucks have become a national trend. An impressive 36% of Seattle diners are frequenting them, while 24% actively follow trucks and other restaurants via social networking sites. Perhaps even more notable is the fact that this year’s Top Newcomer in Seattle is Korean-Hawaiian fusion truck Marination Mobile, serving up a “taste explosion” of affordable sliders, tacos and rice. Other standouts include Dante’s Inferno Dogs fleet of hot dog carts, Matt Lewis’ Creole-soul food truck Where Ya At Matt, “sensational” American Skillet and Mexican El Camion.
New and Affordable: Riding out the recession, some Seattle restaurants closed or renovated their venues to feature lower-priced newcomers that appeal to cost-conscious diners. Ethan Stowell closed his high-end Union to open family-style Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Belltown’s high-end Lampreia shuttered to become downscaled small-plate Bisato and Tom Douglas opened casual Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie. In addition to these reinventions, affordable newcomers include Capitol Hill’s eclectic eatery Marjorie, Madrona’s “sophisticated” New American June and Seth Caswell’s green eatery, Emmer & Rye, located in Queen Anne.
Winners: This year, Kirkland’s “hidden gem” Cafe Juanita takes home the prize for Top Food, earning a 28 on Zagat’s 30-point scale. The award for Most Popular goes to the oversized but “sleek” Wild Ginger, which grabbed the most votes, while the “elegant” “grand setting” of The Georgian and “unparalleled service” of Herbfarm helped the restaurants earn respective Top Decor and Service honors again this year. The top five restaurants in each category are:
1. Wild Ginger
2. Dahlia Lounge
4. Cafe Juanita
1. Cafe Juanita
5. Salish Lodge
3. Cafe Juanita
5. Dulces Latin Bistro
Green Dining: Seattle diners continue to embrace “green dining” as 78% of surveyors say it’s important that their food be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised and 65% say they would actually pay more for it. A few prominent “green” newcomers include Ballard’s The Walrus & the Carpenter and Downtown’s Blueacre, both serving up sustainable seafood. Queen Anne’s Book Bindery has plans for its own greenhouse, and Eastlake newcomer Nettletown swears by foraged local ingredients.
Get off the Phone: Looking at table etiquette, 62% of surveyors consider it’s “rude and inappropriate” to text, tweet, talk and e-mail on a mobile phone at a restaurant. However, 91% feel it is acceptable to take pictures of their food and companions in moderation. This is good news for the 20% of surveyors who admit to using their smartphones to take pictures.
Weakness: Service continues to be the major complaint of Seattle diners as cited by 69% of surveyors. The next three gripes were noise (9%), food (9%) and prices (5%). Further displaying this apparent weakness, surveyors rated the overall hospitality of the local restaurant scene a 17 on Zagat’s 30-point scale.
At the Table: When it comes to treatment in restaurants, 20% of surveyors believe that men are treated better than women when dining out. Furthermore, 56% believe that a restaurant should restrict the amount of time guests can linger at a table during peak hours. When dining next to a noisy party, 60% responded they would ignore it, while 29% said they would asked to be moved and a courageous 4% would ask them to quiet down.
To Your Health: A full 73% of Seattle surveyors say they agree that restaurants should be required to conspicuously post a letter grade reflecting the results of their health department inspection (as recently passed in New York City, taking a cue from Los Angeles). Furthermore, 34% of surveyors feel that the government should impose a tax on sugary drinks as a way to curb obesity and 39% think they should regulate the amount of salt in dishes as a way to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Best Buys: In addition to the ratings and reviews, the guide includes indexes and top lists with categories ranging from cuisine winners to great values. This year’s Top Bang for the Buck list includes the following:
2) Uptown Espresso
3) Dick’s Drive-In
4) Cafe Besalu
5) Bakery Nouveau
6) Crumpet Shop
7) Matt’s Gourmet Hot Dogs
8) Marination Mobile
9) Piroshky Piroshky
10) Pecos Pit BBQ
The 2011 Seattle Restaurants guide ($13.95) was edited by Cynthia Kilian and Alicia Comstock Arter. The guide is available now in bookstores, and all of Zagat’s ratings and reviews can be accessed by visiting ZAGAT.com, or by downloading one of Zagat’s mobile apps, including ZAGAT TO GO for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. For information on Zagat’s mobile products, please visit http://www.zagat.com/mobile. Follow Zagat on Facebook and Twitter @Zagat for news & 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.