Centuries ago, the experience of “dining out” for most travelers would have been a potentially harrowing one. Faced with few options, most persons on the road would have to settle for the unpredictable fare of a local innkeeper. With the arrival of the automobile and the expansion of dining options, travelers often had more choices, but how to choose? One such traveling salesman by the name of Duncan Hines compiled a list of 167 dining establishments in 1935 that he soon began to pass out to friends and acquaintances. Soon, a deluge of dining guides came on the market over the coming decades, and one of these young upstarts recently celebrated its 25th year in existence. The Zagat Survey was first published in 1979 as a guide to restaurants in New York, and has since grown to cover the entire country, and also branched out into other subjects to rate and pick apart at length, including golf, hotels, and nightlife. The guides are the inventions of Tim and Nina Zagat, who originally started the guidebook as a small hobby. Despite the guidebooks’ popularity, they are not without their critics. As anyone can logon to the Zagat website and cast their votes on various aspects of the dining experience at different restaurants, some have claimed that this process results in a widely varying range of opinions, and that some of these opinions undermine the more qualified opining of food critics and professional chefs.
The first link leads to a recent piece from Slate.com on the long-running restaurant guidebook series, and includes a brief interview with Tim Zagat. The second link will whisk visitors away to an article from this Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle that discusses the online voting process utilized by Zagat that some suggest may be compromising the guidebook’s credibility and accuracy. The third link leads to another article from the Chicago Sun-Times that discusses the results of the annual Zagat survey of the nation’s top restaurants. Interestingly enough, the survey finds that Philadelphians are the best tippers in the country, and that denizens of the “Second City” don’t tip so poorly either. The fourth link leads to the Zagat homepage, where visitors can offer their own informed opinions on various restaurants from Ivar’s Acres of Clams in Seattle to the legendary Rainbow Room in New York. The fifth link offers some biographical information about that longtime restaurant critic, Mr. Duncan Hines, courtesy of the equally venerable corporate entity that bears his name. The final link leads to a fun story from Forbes.com from several weeks ago that profiles the most expensive restaurants in the United States, including the Ginza Sushiko in Los Angeles, where meals costs over $600 for a mere two persons.