The Way We Eat Now

By de­moc­ra­tiz­ing food, Za­gat al­tered the culi­nary land­scape for­ever. Here’s how it felt from the in­side.

Fast Company - - Innovation By Design - —BP

Tim Za­gat: There was a kosher restau­rant, and we didn’t men­tion it as be­ing kosher. They sent us a nasty note and said it was cre­at­ing havoc. All th­ese peo­ple were com­ing in, and when they found out that it was kosher they got up and left. I got it straight­ened out in a sub­se­quent print­ing. Then [the owner] got up­set be­cause he’d de­cided he [didn’t want to be] kosher any­more, he was getting so much busi­ness. Al­lan Ripp, for­mer Za­gat PR di­rec­tor: At one point, we com­pared foot traf­fic and food rat­ings among some of the high-end and lower-end places. The restau­rant run by the [chef who in­spired] the Se­in­feld Soup Nazi, its food rat­ings were higher than Le Cirque . . . . [Za­gat wasn’t merely] riding a wave of a culi­nary change in the coun­try but also help­ing ad­vance it. Alice Waters, owner, Chez Panisse: I think [Za­gat] did open up peo­ple’s minds about the world of food, es­pe­cially in big cities. Kevin Suto, CEO, Zachary’s Chicago Pizza: In 2003, we were in the top 10 or some­thing for most pop­u­lar in the Bay Area, and that ruf­fled some feath­ers. Danny Meyer, res­tau­ra­teur; CEO, Union Square Hos­pi­tal­ity Group: I was a junkie with all the sta­tis­tics. I [cre­ated] what I called the value equa­tion: It was ba­si­cally adding up—for the top 50 restau­rants—their food, decor, and ser­vice scores and di­vid­ing that num­ber by the cost of buy­ing a meal there: qual­ity per dol­lar. I would then do a plus-and­mi­nus chart, an ar­row up, down, or side­ways for every sin­gle one . . . . [The guide] was an an­nual re­port card. . . . I started to pay bonuses to our senior peo­ple at Union Square Cafe based on how we had done in those scores . . . . I’ll never for­get the year that Shake Shack [which Meyer founded] made the top 50. Who would have ever thought a ham­burger place would do that?

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