Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Zagat 2011 Bay Area Survey Reveals Diners Cutting Back, Yet Getting Values, In Tough Times

Ninety-Four Noteworthy Newcomers Show Restaurateurs are Betting on the Future; Food Trucks Roll into the Rankings; San Francisco Diners Support Healthful Eating; Gary Danko Sweeps for Food, Service and Popularity; El Tonayense Named "Best Buy"

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Zagat Survey released its 2011 San Francisco Restaurant Survey today, with results available in print, on ZAGAT.com and via ZAGAT TO GO for iPhone, iPad and Android. This year's Survey covers 1,373 restaurants in the greater San Francisco Bay Area from the Wine Country up North to Carmel down South. Nearly two-thirds of the restaurants in the guide feature dinner costs under $40 and lunches below $30. Based on the feedback of over 10,000 avid local consumers, the typical Zagat-Rated restaurant was visited by surveyors over twice a day.
Cloudy Weather : The nation's economic woes continue to affect local restaurateurs, as the average meal cost in San Francisco saw an unprecedented decline – a 1.6% decrease, from $39.40 in 2009, to $38.78 this year. Furthermore, the average cost of dining at the 20 most expensive restaurants has dropped 4.4% since the recession started. When asked how the economy is affecting their dining habits, 43% of surveyors report eating out less, 39% are more attentive to prices, 36% are picking less expensive places and 16 to 21% have cut back on alcohol, appetizers and desserts. Also, 10% say they're less likely to try new places. Importantly, despite San Francisco's reputation as a culinary center, locals report dining out 2.8 times per week on average, down from 3.2 pre-recession and below Zagat's current 3.2 national average.
Silver Lining : Nonetheless, since the economic downturn, 50% of surveyors report finding better deals, 40% feel their patronage is more appreciated and 36% say it's easier to land a table. While 59% of surveyors cite poor service as their top irritant when dining out, the decrease from 66% pre-recession suggests an improvement in the front-of-house. And it seems diners are starting to put their money where their mouths are, as the average tip increased from 18.4% pre-recession to 18.6% now. That there are 94 new arrivals in the Survey shows that restaurateurs are betting on the future.
"The down economy has made dining out more affordable, and diners have plenty of options to choose from," said Tim Zagat, CEO and Co-Founder of Zagat Survey. "However, the good news for consumers may be bad news for restaurateurs as dining spending has declined. Fortunately, 51% of surveyors are confident that fine-dining out will bounce back with the economy."
Keep on Truckin' : For the first time in the San Francisco guide, surveyors put food trucks and pop-up eateries on the map with full ratings and reviews – a welcome resource for the 23% of locals who report following food trucks (and other restaurants) via Twitter and Facebook. It's also notable that this year's Best Bang for the Buck is El Tonayense, a traveling taco-truck fleet (with a brick-and-mortar offshoot). It even bested In-N-Out Burger, as well as last year's best buy, Saigon Sandwiches (now No. 2 and No. 3, respectively). More mobile eateries can be found on ZAGAT.com, including RoliRoti, Spencer on the Go! and hot dog purveyor Let's Be Frank, and farmer's market stands like 4505 Meats, Cal-Korean Namu and Tacolicious.
Healthfulness : An overwhelming 83% of San Francisco surveyors say they agree that restaurants should be required to conspicuously post a letter grade reflecting the results of their health department inspection (as recently passed in NYC, taking a cue from LA). Diners also agree on healthy-dining options, as 69% consider having low-carb, low-fat and heart-healthy items on menus to be important. And in a city where local, organic eating is a lifestyle rather than a trend, nearly 80% consider it important to have "green" menu items available.
Openings : This year's Top Newcomer, Frances, located in the Castro, is just one of the big debuts specializing in locally sourced fare. Other "green" eateries range from the splashy Morimoto Napa and Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern to Boulevard offshoot Prospect and French Laundry alum Corey Lee's first venture, Benu. Sandwich shops also stormed the scene this year, offering everything from "decadent five-star" sandwiches at North Beach's Naked Lunch to melted creations at SoMa's American Grilled Cheese Kitchen to gourmet banh mi at nearby Spice Kit. Rounding out this year's top five rated newcomers, after Frances, are (in order) Baker & Banker, Barbacco, Boot & Shoe Service and Tacolicious.
Winners : The "showstopping" and "magnificent" Gary Danko continues to stand out with surveyors, rated No. 1 for Top Food, Most Popular and Top Service in this year's Survey. Taking the honors for Top Decor is Big Sur's Sierra Mar. Showing the diversity and geographic spread of San Francisco Bay Area dining are the leading restaurants in major categories (E=East of SF; N=North; S=South):
Top Food
1) Gary Danko
2) French Laundry/N
3) Cyrus/N
4) Sierra Mar/S
5) Acquerello

Top Decor
1) Sierra Mar/S
2) Garden Court
3) Ahwahnee Din.Rm./E
4) Pacific's Edge/S
5) Auberge du Soleil/N

Top Service
1) Gary Danko
2) French Laundry/N
3) Cyrus/N
4) Acquerello
5) Erna's Elderberry/E

Most Popular
1) Gary Danko
2) Boulevard
3) Slanted Door
4) French Laundry/N
5) Cyrus/N

Winners by Cuisine : The new guide features over 100 indexes and top lists for types of cuisine, neighborhoods and special features. Here are the winners listed by cuisine type:
American (New) – Gary Danko
Italian – Acquerello
American (Trad.) – Ad Hoc/N
Japanese – Hana Japanese/N
Asian – House
Med./Greek – Kokkari Estiatorio
Barbecue – Buckeye Roadhouse/N
Mexican – Tamarindo Antojeria/E
Burgers – Joe's Cable Car
Middle Eastern – Truly Mediterranean
Cajun/Creole/Soul – Brenda's
Peruvian – La Mar Cebicheria
Californian – Chez Panisse/E
Pizza – Pizzetta 211
Chinese – Yank Sing
Sandwiches – Bakesale Betty/E
Continental – La Foret/S
Seafood – Swan Oyster Depot
Dim Sum – Yank Sing
Spanish/Basque – Piperade
Eclectic – Sierra Mar/S
Steak – Alexander's Steak/S
French – Cyrus/N
Thai – Soi4/E
French (Bistro) – Chapeau!
Vegetarian – Ubuntu/N
Indian – Ajanta/E
Vietnamese – Slanted Door

Overall : When asked to rate San Francisco's restaurants in the aggregate, surveyors gave the kitchens far higher grades than the fronts of the house. Food diversity scored a 26 and culinary creativity a 24, while hospitality and table availability received scores of only 18 and 15, respectively. When read together with the fact that service is still by far the largest complaint of diners, these figures point the way for restaurateurs' efforts to improve their future performance – and, hopefully, their profitability.
Details : The 2011 San Francisco Restaurants guide ($14.95) was edited by Karen Hudes with local editor Meesha Halm. For information on Zagat's mobile products, please visit http://www.zagat.com/mobile. Both the guidebook and the digital products break top lists out by cuisine type, neighborhood and other special features. Be sure to follow Zagat on Facebook and Twitter @ZagatBuzz for daily news and updates!
About Zagat Survey, LLC
Known as the "wildly popular" "burgundy bible," Zagat Survey is the world's most trusted source for consumer-generated survey information. With a worldwide network of surveyors, Zagat rates and reviews restaurants, hotels, nightlife, movies, music, golf, shopping and a range of other entertainment categories and is lauded as the "most up-to-date," "comprehensive" and "reliable" guide, published on all platforms. Zagat content is available to consumers wherever and whenever they need it: on ZAGAT.com, ZAGAT.mobi, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in book form.

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