The Way We Eat Now
By democratizing food, Zagat altered the culinary landscape forever. Here’s how it felt from the inside.
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?