NEW YORK, Oct 23, 2000 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- A Record 31,101 Surveyors Log More Than 3.8 Million Meals in Rating and Reviewing 1,931 Eateries Union Square Still No. 1 Favorite; Le Bernardin Tops Food/Service; Danube Leads Newcomers/Decor
Restaurant openings reach record 311, closings drop to 89 - Can the boom go on much longer? Dining renaissance in Brooklyn, Harlem and old Meatpacking District; Even Tipping is Inflating
How much have New York diners been enjoying the city's strong economy? Consider that two years ago, Zagat Survey counted nine NY restaurants with an average meal tab of $70 or higher. In the new 2001 Zagat New York City Restaurant Survey, 23 places broke the $70 barrier. That's splurging, especially since the tally excludes the $160 prix-fixe minimum set by recently opened Alain Ducasse.
Things have indeed been looking up for New York's dining scene, with major indicators jumping on a number of fronts. Zagat reports that diner frequency, average overall price per meal, as well as the number of restaurant openings have all spiked sharply, not to mention the count of participating volunteer surveyors, jumping to a record high of 30,000, including 10,000 commentators on the Internet. Even tipping moved up a notch, while Zagat highlights several NY neighborhoods lately bursting with restaurant activity, led by Harlem and the once-forlorn Meatpacking District.
The Survey also reports on major trends churning New York's restaurant waters, including: a) the value system at work that continues to place a premium on French and Japanese food even as diners patronize Italian and Chinese restaurants in greater numbers; (b) the continuance of service as the restaurant industry's weak link; and (c) the unheralded dominance of simple, inexpensive, homey BATH (Better Alternatives to Home) restaurants.
Here are key results from the 2001 NY Survey -the 22nd annual edition - covering 1,931 eateries citywide:
1. Dinner With Friends - This year's total of 31,101 surveyors sets a new high-water mark for Zagat (which began in 1979 with 150 contributors). For the first time, the Survey, now in its 22nd annual edition, accepted comments from nearly 11,000 diners over the Internet at zagat.com (Internet numerical ratings are still being tested to insure their reliability). Among the 20,000 plus diners whose ratings for Food, Decor and Service are reflected in the published guide, 18% were in their 20s, 26% in the 30s; 20%, 40s; 22%, 50s; and 14% in the 60s or older; 57% were women.
2. Dining Frequency Quickens - Along with all other economic indicators, the pace of eating out picked up smartly this year, moving from 3.2 meals per week to 3.6, an increase of more than 10%. Zagat diners are also returning to restaurants more often, i.e. an average of 8.6 times in 2000 compared to 7.7 times in 1999. The meal math adds up - the results of this year's NY Survey are based on an estimated 3.8 million dining experiences (some 10,450 restaurant meals per day), with approximately 1,970 meals per restaurant.
3. Spend, Diner, Spend - The price of an average surveyor meal in NY this year (one drink and tip included) was $35.14 - a 5.9% increase over a year ago. This was the highest single-year increase in more than a decade and well beyond the annual 2-3% inflation in effect throughout the 1990s. Nor are New Yorkers alone in dining large - in Chicago, the average surveyor meal has risen 13% in two years, in Washington, restaurant spending has leapt 17% since 1998. New York remains the most expensive U.S. dining city (the average among 39 markets covered by Zagat is $24.22), though it humbles besides Paris ($40.47), London ($42.24) and especially Tokyo ($64.77).
4. Feeling Flush - Spending jumped even more sharply among high-end restaurants: the city's 20 most expensive dining rooms registered a 9.5% rise in average meal costs, reaching a new high at $76.73. Seven places hit the $80 threshold, led by luxe Lespinasse at $85.50 and Daniel at $82.43. Of course, restaurant big-spenders have had to reach even deeper since the opening this summer of Alain Ducasse, the haute French spot in the Essex House Hotel by the famed Michelin eight-star chef. Ducasse's $160 prix fixe has set a new platinum standard that has rocked expectations of what a big-ticket meal is worth. Across selected Zagat markets this year, the 20 most expensive range from $45.90 in Dallas to - gulp! - $177.20 in Tokyo.
5. Tipping Tilts Upward - The average surveyor tip surpassed 18% for the first time this year, with almost half of participating NY diners saying they tip 20% or more. The trend towards the 20% tip shows up around the country, despite diners continuing to cite poor service as their biggest complaint. Many restaurants now include an automatic 20% gratuity for large parties, though as Zagat notes in its recent Diner's Bill of Rights, customers are fully entitled to withhold a tip when confronted with inadequate hospitality or service.
6. Newcomers Surge - In a certain sign that NY's dining engine has been on overdrive, restaurant openings zoomed ahead of anything seen in the last ten years, topping out at a record 311, compared with an annual average of 227 during the past decade. Meanwhile, closings fell for the third year in a row, with only 89 places officially passing on (compared to a high of 127 in 1996). If the economy ever downshifts, watch this index!
7. Major Arrivals - Diners looking to stay current will have to do better than 3.6 meals out per week in light of the crop of major restaurants that opened in NY this year. Among this year's freshman class, Danube waltzed away with the only Food score of 27, but with a good cast of 26-rated rivals in tow, 71 Clinton Fresh Food, (Wylie Dufresne's cramped but confident Lower East Side American), Scalini Fedeli (New Jersey takes TriBeCa) and Cello (the dressy, pricey Yo Yo Ma of seafooders). Coming in at 25 was Atlas on Central Park South, followed closely by Blue Hill, two wonderful intimate new Americans. Other top newcomers include Ducasse (the ultimate in luxury for the ultimate in price); Baldoria in Midtown (for all those who can't get a table at its parent Rao's in East Harlem); Guastavino (Sir Terrance Conran's oversized gift to NY's pick-up scene); Hudson Cafeteria (Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck's super-hot, communal table eatery in the new Hudson Hotel); One CPS (Alan Stillman's upscale brasserie at the Plaza Hotel); Orsay (French bistro at the site of the legendary Mortimer's); Shallots (stylish Kosher Mediterranean in the Sony Atrium); the Strip House (strip steaks in a striptease setting); and Wallse (new Viennese standout in the West Village).
8. And More to Come - The Survey also notes yet another batch of important openings about to hit NY this fall, among them: Artisanal (cheese-accented brasserie from Picholine's Terrance Brennan), Citarella (Rock Center seafooder from the eponymous food market); D'Artagnan (cafe dining by the renowned gourmet food distributor); Figs and Olives (a pair of spin-offs from Boston's leading chef Todd English); Le Zinc (from Chanterelle's David and Karen Waltuck); La Mercado (ABC Carpet's newest under the city's top Latin chef Douglas Rodriguez); Town, by the talented Geoffrey Zakarian (ex-Patroon and 44); and the French-accented Virot, as in Didier Virot, a protege of Jean-Georges
9. Meyer's Dynasty - Danny Meyer and Michael Romano have done it again. The respective owner and chef of Union Square Cafe take honors for operating NY's Most Popular restaurant for the fifth straight year. Only two other establishments have held the title for as long in the 22-year history of the Survey - Lutece (1982-87) and Bouley (1991-95). Gourmet food without the attitude is surveyors' take on the civilized Union Square, whose average $58 tab is well below its prime rivals. Indeed, Meyer's only competition is himself, since No. 2 finisher was his own Gramercy Tavern a few blocks away, backed by the culinary grace of chef Tom Colicchio and a superb staff that defines the difference between good service and true hospitality. Meanwhile, Meyer's two other restaurants, the Indian-accented Tabla and the spacious and swank Eleven Madison Park, both jumped into the Top 30 this year - Tabla at 24, Eleven Madison at No. 26.
10. More than Stable - As with the top two spots, the Nos. 3-4-5 Popularity winners held their ground this year: Gotham Bar & Grill, Aureole, and Le Bernardin, but there was movement elsewhere. Daniel, chef Daniel Boulud's serious East Side French spot, jumped from No. 11 to No. 7. Also joining the Top 10 was Bouley Bakery, David Bouley's New French in TriBeCa, moving from No. 18 to No. 9. Other Top 50 finishers showing real upward movement were: Blue Water Grill, Babbo, Balthazar, Aquavit, Asia de Cuba, Aquagrill, Cafe Boulud, Ruby Foo's and Danube. (See p. 11 in the new guide for the 50 Most Popular list.)
11. More than Stable - As with the top two spots, the Nos. 3-4-5 Popularity winners held their ground this year: Gotham Bar & Grill, Aureole, and Le Bernardin, but there was movement elsewhere. Daniel, David Boulud's serious East Side French spot, skipped from No. 11 to No. 7. Also joining the Top 10 was Bouley Bakery, David Bouley's heavenly New French in TriBeCa, moving from No. 18 to No. 9. Other Top 50 finishers showing real upward movement were: Blue Water Grill, Babbo, Balthazar, Aquavit, Asia de Cuba, Aquagrill, and Cafe Boulud. Two yearlings broke in among the leaders -- Ruby Foo's, the happening pair of Pan-Asians (No. 45) and Danube, David Bouley's elegant, downtown makeover of Old World Austrian cuisine (a goulash for the Millennium!), at No. 28. See p. 11 in the Survey for the 50 Most Popular.
12. Suddenly Brasseries - Since the arrival of Balthazar in 1997, NY has been overrun with fine brasseries-style eateries. There wasn't even a brasserie index in '97 - the 2001 guidebook lists thirty-six, including newcomers Brasserie (the glitzy Restaurant Associates revival), Brasserie 8 1/2 (decked out with a huge Leger glass mural, plus chef Julian Alonzo's first-class menu), Brasserie Bit, Gaby Brasserie, Guastavino, La Bicyclette, Le Marais 2, Panache, Rue 57, Shelly's NY, One CPS, and especially Pastis, Keith McNally's baby Balthazar.
13. Pushing the Boundaries East, West & North - Avid NY diners have several must-go destinations to put on their maps this year, starting with Brooklyn, which has spawned a new generation of prime venues, including Boerum Hill Food Co., Diner, The Grocery, Madiba, Patois, The Red Rail, Smith St. Kitchen, Tinto and Vaux. Another new Ground Zero is the West 14th Street Meatpacking District, where the butchers and butch are now joined by the hungry on their way to the likes of Fressen, Le Gans, Lotus, Macalleria, Markt., Pastis and Rhone. But the biggest boom may be occurring in Harlem, which, thanks to an across-the-board renaissance, has seen a true New Wave of quality dining, led by Amy Ruth's (try that red velvet cake), Bayou, Londel's Supper Club, Miss Mamie's, Miss Maude's, Slice of Harlem, and the soon-to-arrive Sugar Hill Bistro and mega Jimmy's
14. Culinary Pecking Order - New Yorkers make a distinction between the food they rate highest and the food they choose to eat. Of the Top 25 for Food, ten feature formal French cuisine, six are American, four are Japanese, and only one is Italian. Chinese is totally absent from this list, as it is from the entire Top 50. From a similar perspective, the top-rated Italian (Il Mulino) falls below the bottom of the top-rated French list and the highest-scoring Chinese (Tse Yang -- 25) comes in below the entire top Japanese list. But wait: When asked to name their favorite cuisine, 37% of all surveyors named Italian restaurants, compared with only 19% citing French. Italian also accounts for the greatest number of restaurants in the 2001 Survey with nearly 500 listings, double the total for French restaurants. Similarly when it came to choosing where to eat, Chinese easily outpaced Japanese.
15. Bountiful Best Buys - Even with meal spending soaring, cost-conscious diners have plenty of choices for high-end eats on a budget. The Survey lists 100 prix fixe lunch and dinner options for under $40 - including Lespinasse ($36), Daniel ($34), Jean Georges ($35), Danube ($35), Chanterelle ($35), and Lutece ($36). For even greater value, Zagat calculates its Bang for the Buck winners, entries whose overall ratings compare most favorably with average meal cost. This year's top full menu bang goes to Turkish Bereket, a 24/7 cabbies' refuge on the Lower East Side whose killer kebabs draw a 21 Food rating, at only an average tab of $10. Coming up behind is Mama's Food Shop, an East Village American serving trailer park meat loaf and other comfort food that also draws a 21 score, for a mere $13. There are 90 Top Bangs across the spectrum of ethnic, deli, sandwich and coffeehouse offerings well below NY's $35 meal average, many in the city's outer boroughs.
16. More BATHs - That spending and diner frequency both hiked this year reflects the reality that many NYers rely on restaurants more and more to provide their daily bread. NY surveyors say that 56% of their total weekly lunches and dinners come from restaurants and take-out kitchens. Eating out is a nightly ritual for working couples and families with young children, who have fueled the success of so many new casual neighborhood restaurants that at the end of a long workday offer a Better Alternative To Home. The BATH category takes up the lion's share of newcomers this year - as every year - out of the limelight perhaps, but not beyond the radar of the average NYer. See pp. 253-56 for a complete list of openings and pp. 247 for Family Style recommendations.
17. New to NY - More restaurants means choices, which also means more fine-tuning of Zagat's ever-evolving breakouts of special dining features. Three New World cuisines added to the mix this year are Australian (Eight Mile Creek in SoHo), Eritrean (Caffe Adulis in the Flatiron District), and South African (Madiba in Brooklyn's Fort Greene section). The Survey has also compiled several new indexes, linking restaurants that offer Communal Tables (from sexy Asia de Cuba's to Swedish Ulrika's), Celebrity Chefs (from first-name stars like Jean-Georges and Nobu to the inimitable Soup Nazi, Al Yeganeh), and also Bathrooms to Visit (knock first, please - but check out the loos at Bar 89, Bateaux NY, ESPN Zone and 44).
18. Service Can't Close the Gap - One more index rolled out this year spotlights restaurants known for a Welcoming Hospitality -- over 60 places that go beyond the call, from down-home Amy Ruth's in Harlem to the super attentive Carlyle to the warm and cozy 12th Street Bar and Grill in Brooklyn's Park Slope, not to forget gracious standard-bearers like Four Seasons, Union Square Cafe, and the Regency. Unfortunately, While service/hospitality remains the main source of customer complaints. 58% of surveyors citing service problems as their No. 1 gripe, ahead of noise (17%), crowding (8%), reservation snafus (7%), and even high prices (6%). The average Service rating (17.8) falls 2 points below the average Food rating (19.8), giving NY restaurants the greatest F-S ratings gap among all Zagat markets covered. On the other hand, patrons pointed more fingers at each other this year, cell phone usage emerging as the most annoying new dining irritant.
19. Gone, but Remembered - There were a few noteworthy names among the 89 closings this year, including Rock Center French La Reserve, Rosemarie's, and Theater District stand-by Wally and Joseph's, though few stood longer than Fraunces Tavern: this downtown American, famous for housing George Washington in the 1760s, pulled down its flag after losing its 21st century lease. NY's food scene also lost several prominent personalities in 2000 -- Craig Claiborne, the renowned food writer and restaurant critic; Pat Cetta, the longtime spark behind Sparks steakhouse, and Dan Lavezzo, who for 50 years presided over the landmark P.J. Clarke's.
Note: The 2001 Zagat New York City Restaurant Survey sells for $11.95 at bookstores, newsstands, and specialty stores nationally. It can also be ordered from Zagat at 888-371-5440 or online at www.zagat.com.
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