Zagat 2003 NYC Survey Finds Restaurant Scene Surprisingly Strong a Year Later

But Dining Frequency and Spending Drop Slightly as NYers Dine Closer to Home

and Are More Price Sensitive; New Restaurants Still Outnumber Closures, But

Gap Narrows; Diners Widely Favor 'Casual, Local' Places and Return More Often



Meyer Beats Meyer as Gramercy Tavern Displaces Union Square Cafe as NYers

No. 1 Favorite; Daniel Wins for Top Food and Service; Rainbow Room Top Decor;

Compass Top Newcomer



Oct 21, 2002, 01:00 ET from Zagat Survey

    NEW YORK, Oct. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- While not exactly basking in the best of
 times, New York's restaurants -- and NY diners -- have survived recession,
 terror and other existential jitters of the past year in a surprisingly strong
 state, with a few unexpected side dishes to go along with real growth that may
 have been unthinkable a year ago.  So reports the 2003 Zagat New York City
 Restaurant Survey published this week.
     Nearly 26,000 frequent diners contributed to the new Survey, a great
 showing in any season but especially impressive since this was the first year
 that Zagat moved exclusively to online balloting after 23 years of paper
 votes.  More telling, despite the after-shocks of 9/11 that left many
 restaurants near-empty for weeks last fall, dining frequency and per-meal
 spending ended up only marginally off from near-record levels turned in before
 the economy tanked and the terrorists struck.  The most pronounced change is
 that people are eating closer to home and are more price sensitive.  And in
 one of those silver linings that come from true adversity, NY diners have
 detected improvements in service, crowding, prices and even noise levels when
 eating out -- a kinder, gentler restaurant scene, which may explain why the
 average tip also nudged up this year.
     Here are main news points from the 2003 NYC Survey -- the 24th annual
 edition -- covering 1,924 restaurants citywide:
 
     1)    Keeping Pace -- Zagat diners reported collectively eating out 3.5
           meals a week.  Though a drop from last year's pace of 3.7 meals,
           it's worth noting that ten years ago, surveyors were dining out just
           3.1 times weekly.  This modest decline is remarkable when recalling
           how dramatically restaurant-going fell after Sept. 11.  Overall,
           this year's guide reflects consumer input on 4.7 million dining
           experiences citywide, or 12,900 restaurant meals per day.
 
     2)    More Meals, More Meals Out -- Two years ago, with the bull market
           ending its long run, surveyors reported skipping two lunches and
           dinners weekly, sign that a go-go economy didn't always wait to eat.
           This year, surveyors say they forego only one meal per week, a
           possible indication of shifting priorities in more stressful times.
           But as the number of home-made meals inched up, so did the number
           from take-out kitchens and restaurants: the net effect is that NYers
           are taking 61% of their weekly lunches and dinners from outside
           sources.  In addition, surveyors visited each restaurant rated in
           the guide an average of 9.6 times -- a 37% jump over last year's
           return rate of 7.0 meals per restaurant rated.
 
     3)    Sticking With Favorites, the Closer the Better -- In the past year,
           NYers have stayed closer to home when eating out, a fact of life
           that has favored many informal neighborhood eateries, including
           those in the outer boroughs and suburbs.  Surveyors say they
           frequent "casual, local" places for 68% of their meals out, a major
           boost to the hundreds of "BATH" restaurants covered by the Survey
           (as in "Better Alternative to Home").  In fact, this has been a boom
           year for restaurants in NYC's residential neighborhoods and
           surrounding suburbs.
 
     4)    Overall Spending Barely Dips -- Like consumers elsewhere, NY diners
           haven't exactly pulled back their spending in the face of economic
           challenges: NY surveyors spent an average $36.95 per meal this year
           (drink and tip included), a less than one percent decline from last
           year's mean tab of $37.29, though worth noting that it was the first
           drop in average meal cost since the early 1990s.  (Prior to this
           year, per-meal spending in NY had increased steadily by 27% since
           1996.)  NY still reigns as the most expensive U.S. dining city --
           the average among 30 major markets recently surveyed is $28.10, with
           Houston the lowest at $20.87.  But consider that the average
           restaurant meal is $59.15 in Tokyo, $49.98 in London, and $46.75 in
           Paris and NY doesn't seem so forbidding.
 
     5)    Somebody's Still Splurging -- Even in recession, many of NY's richer
           restaurants are still humming with their core patrons:  indeed, the
           average meal cost at the city's 20 most expensive eateries jumped
           7.4% this year to $90.68.  That follows an upward trend of 39% since
           1996, when the top 20 averaged a mere $65.  The super-haute French
           Alain Ducasse led all big spenders with an average tab of $193
           (though Ducasse no longer offer a choice of fancy pens for signing
           the bill).  Also out in front is Kuruma Zushi, a discreet and
           "spectacular" second-floor sushi den on East 47th St. where the
           check averages $108.  NY's priciest might humble diners in New
           Orleans (where the 20 priciest average $48) or Vancouver ($36), but
           they pale in comparison with Paris ($118), Osaka ($144) and Tokyo
           ($159).
 
     6)    Perceived Improvement Helps Tips -- If you haven't noticed, NY
           restaurants have changed for the better since last year's terror
           attacks -- or so say 29% of Zagat surveyors.  Half of those believe
           that service has improved, while 47% are thankful for less crowding.
           In fact, while service remains the Number 1 complaint, protests have
           dropped markedly:  53% of Zagat diners cite it as the main irritant
           to dining out, compared with 65% two years ago.  A small group of
           optimists believe that prices are lower and that restaurants are
           quieter this year.  Such perceptions could account for a bump up in
           tips this year -- the average NY gratuity was 18.5%, compared with
           18.0% last year.  The story is similar elsewhere, with tipping in
           all other major markets hitting 18% or higher this year.
 
     7)    Openings Down, But Better Than Expected -- A year ago would anyone
           have forecast that nearly 200 new restaurants would have dared open
           in NY given the myriad challenges of Sept. 11 and the recession?  In
           truth, the pace of notable newcomers has fallen sharply since an
           all-time high of 311 recorded two years ago, but the 186 openings
           this year is an impressive showing and a credit to the resilience of
           the city's restaurant economy.  Closings, meanwhile, rose to 104 --
           it was the narrowest differential (82) of the two indexes since the
           end of the last recession of 1991-92.
 
     8)    Lights Out -- Among the prominent restaurant exits this past year:
           Alison on Dominick, Atlas, Arizona 206, Box Tree, Cello, Hudson
           River Club, Marylou's, Palio, Peacock Alley, Quilty's and San
           Ambroeus.  One revved-up theme joint that ran out of gas was Harley
           Davidson Cafe.  At press time, Ratners, the original brash, velvet
           rope kosher dairy restaurant, served its last blintz.  The grandest
           departure was the Russian Tea Room, whose revival two years ago
           never struck a chord with diners, despite the efforts of RTR's late
           owner Werner Leroy.
 
     9)    Impressive Debuts -- Owner Steve Hanson (Ruby Foo, Blue Water Grill)
           is one who sees NY's dining glass more than half-full: Hanson's Be
           Our Guest, Inc. launched three new restaurants in 2002:  Blue Fin,
           Dos Caminos and Fiamma, the latter a hosteria-style SoHo Italian on
           three levels.  These joined a solid gallery of newcomers, including:
           Alias (Lower East Side sibling to 71 Clinton); Atelier (posh,
           tranquil dining room at new Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South);
           Blue Smoke (Danny Meyer's Gramercy paean to barbecue and jazz);
           Compass ("happening" Lincoln Center New American); Django (Midtown
           French brasserie designed by David Rockwell); Harrison (TriBeCa
           Med-American already an "instant classic); Kai (pricey East Side
           Japanese with formal kaiseki menu); L'Impero (Tudor City Italian
           w/cruise ship interior); Marseille (Theater District Med-brasserie);
           and Nam (sexy, downtown Nouvelle Vietnamese).  Even David Emil, who
           lost so much as co-owner of Windows on the World, has reason to feel
           good again with Noche, his dramatic new Latin-American on Broadway.
           Star chefs Rick Moonan (RM) and Jonathan Waxman (Washington Park)
           also brought smart new entrants to market.
 
     10)   More to Come -- And multiple major projects are in the works: Tom
           Keller (chef/owner of French Laundry, the foodies' Fort Knox in
           Napa, CA), will return to NY with a branch of his sublime
           Californian in the new AOL Time-Warner building on Columbus Circle.
           Also coming to the AOL address: Ginza Sushi-Ko, a Beverly Hills
           import from celebrated sushi chef Masa Takayama, and Prime, a
           Jean-Georges Vongerichten steakhouse.  Jean-Georges is also readying
           66, an ambitious TriBeCa Chinese, and Spice Market, "a vast Asian in
           the Meatpacking District."  Other prime-timers to come:  WD-50, from
           Wylie Dufresne (71 Clinton Fresh Food); Aix, a new Westsider from
           Didier Virot; and Morrell's, Flatiron American from the famous wine
           purveyors.  And believe it or not, buttoned-up Alain Ducasse is set
           to open a more casual eatery -- think of a cottage sitting next to
           Versailles.
 
     11)   My Oh Meyer, Danny Does It Again -- From the time it opened in 1985
           Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe had never slipped in Zagat's
           Popularity rankings, climbing steadily for a decade before reigning
           the last six years as NY surveyors' favorite restaurant.  That
           singular streak just ended, but it is doubtful Meyer is crestfallen:
           his Gramercy Tavern has just moved ahead of USC as the city's No. 1
           favorite.  Meyer and chef Tom Collicchio's "passionate" Flatiron New
           American is "perfection personified," with service so good that
           Zagat advises, "try not to 'hug the waiter.'"  Not content with the
           top two seeds, Meyer saw two of his younger offspring join the Top
           20:  No. 13-ranked Eleven Madison Park and No. 20 Tabla.  No other
           NY restaurant success story matches the Meyer dynasty.
 
     12)   Up & Comers -- Elsewhere in Popularity, Nobu, Drew Nieporent's
           celebrity-thick TriBeCa Japanese, jumped from No. 11 to No. 5; Blue
           Water Grill, Steve Hanson's scene-making seafooder in a restored
           Union Square bank, vaulted from No. 17 to No. 9; Balthazar, Keith
           McNalley's buzzy SoHo brasserie, came on from No. 20 to No. 12; Chef
           David Bouley debuted his new made-over namesake Bouley at No. 19.
           Other first-timers to the Top 50:  Artisanal (22), Craft (26), Yama
           (33), Lupa (40), Ouest (45), and Ocean Grill (49).
 
     13)   Best in Show -- Atop the Zagat Food chain stands Daniel, Daniel
           Boulud's "life-altering" East Side French, which led five other
           restaurants with a 28-rating (out of 30) for cuisine.  Daniel turned
           in the best all-around score, the only NY restaurant to average 28
           for combined Food/Decor/Service ratings.  Catapulting from No. 21 to
           No. 2 in Food this year was Sushi Yasuda, a "Zen-like oasis" near
           the UN boasting "ultra-fresh" fish and a delectable omakase menu
           under master chef Maomichi Yasuda.  Other, familiar 28-ers for Food:
           Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, Chanterelle and Nobu.  As for best
           all-around Survey performances, here are the Top 10: Daniel,
           Chanterelle, Lespinasse, Danube, Le Bernardin, Alain Ducasse,
           Gramercy Tavern, La Grenouille, Four Seasons, and Jean Georges,
           proof that haute Euro/French still largely rules the roost in NY.
           Back atop the Decor ratings this year:  Rainbow Room:  its 28 score
           soars above everything, including its 19 Food rating.  And best
           rated Newcomer:  Compass, the magnetic New American energizing the
           food scene near Lincoln Center.
 
     14)   More Boroughs, More Japanese -- In the Survey's foreword, the Zagats
           note the growing number of quality restaurants outside Manhattan
           imprinting on NYC diners -- 11% of entries this year (217) are in
           the city's four other boroughs, with heavy emphasis on Brooklyn.
           Another trend has been the assimilation of Japanese restaurants
           among top-tier winners.  A decade ago only one restaurant (Sushisay)
           managed a Food score of even 25; this year's Survey counts 12
           Japanese with ratings of 26 or higher.  And whereas two years ago,
           only 4% of surveyors named Japanese their favorite cuisine, that
           number was 13% this year.  NY's most popular cuisine continues to be
           Italian.
 
     15)   Dollar-Wise -- Lest anyone doubt the affordability of NY dining,
           there are the Survey's irrefutable value indexes (pp. 20-22),
           including over 200 prix-fixe lunch and dinner options with prices
           $20-$40 below average a la carte meal costs.  And for a great tour
           of the city's rich ethnic dining map, consult Best Buys, featuring
           full-menu and specialty food stops of all nationalities whose Survey
           ratings compare most favorably to prices.  This year's best-eating
           bang for the NY buck goes to Bereket, a 24/7 Turkish outpost on the
           Lower East Side where "cabbies and clubgoers" congregate in the "wee
           hours" for "damn good kebabs" and "rapid-fire" counter service:  it
           rates 21 for Food, only $11 a head.
 
     16)   The Waiting Game -- While diners gripe about long lines and
           reservation snafus, they are not so quick to bail out:  on average,
           surveyors say they will wait nearly 18 minutes for a table even if
           they have a reservation; without a reservation, they are willing to
           wait up to 33-plus minutes for a table.
 
     The 2003 Zagat Survey of New York City Restaurants sells for $12.95; the
 companion New York City Restaurant Map is also available for $6.95.  The
 Survey was edited by Curt Gathje and Carol Diuguid; restaurant coverage was
 coordinated by Larry Cohn.  The pocket-sized guide covers 1,924 restaurants
 across some 90 different cuisines and dining styles.  In addition to surveyor
 ratings and reviews are special feature indexes accommodating dozens of
 particular needs and interests -- child-friendly, people-watching, pubs,
 cigars welcome, singles scenes, tasting menus, chef's tables, BYO, courthouse
 locations good for jury duty, kosher, pre-theater, even places featuring
 interesting bathrooms and those that are immune to bad reviews (critic proof).
     Zagat.com:  The 2003 NYC Survey and companion Map are available at
 http://www.zagat.com; charter members can access Zagat ratings/reviews for
 restaurants in 45 cities worldwide, with coverage by year-end to reach 70
 cities.  Advance search capabilities allow extensive online surfing for the
 perfect dining spot by more than 50 separate criteria.  Subscribers also
 receive ZagatWire, the Survey's monthly e-mail newsletter covering
 up-to-the-minute food/restaurant news in major cities.
 
     About Zagat Survey
     Zagat Survey is the world's leading provider of consumer survey-based
 leisure guides, with over 200,000 surveyors.  Covering restaurants, hotels,
 nightlife, movies, shopping and a range of other entertainment resources,
 Zagat content is available in books, at http://www.zagat.com, on the Palm and
 Pocket PC operating systems, on mobile phones and on TV and radio.
 
     From:  Allan Ripp, arippnyc@aol.com, 212-721-7468 or Michelle Lehmann,
 mlehmann@zagat.com, 212-404-6454
 
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SOURCE Zagat Survey