Zagat recently released the results of its 2011 New York City Restaurant Survey, which concluded that the dining scene is still sluggish two years after the "Great Recession."

However, survey responses in the key restaurant market also help show the way forward to the changing industry. Customers are more interested in casual dining experiences, and health and green-savvy operations alike.

Telling highlights of the survey include:

  • Lower prices/less takeout occasions: This year the average cost of a meal in New York is $41.76, a marginal decrease from $41.81 last year. (The first decrease since 2002, i.e. right after 9/11.) Reflecting the continuing difficult market conditions, 27 percent of surveyors report that they are eating out less than they were six months ago, while only 11 percent say they are eating out more. Also declining are meals eaten out/taken out, 52 percent this year compared to 60 percent in 2005, and the average meals out per surveyor is 3.0 times a week, down from 3.3 pre-recession.
  • Rise of the less-expensive restaurant: Survey responses reflected less-crowded restaurants, naturally – which has also necessitated their adjustment to meet diners' changing needs. This year's Survey includes 657 eateries that offer dinner for less than $30, and 434 offering dinner for less than $25. Moreover, 200 have bargain prix fixe menus.
  • Techie-diner etiquette: While 81 percent feel it's acceptable to take pictures of their food and few object, 64 percent say it's "rude and inappropriate" to text, e-mail, tweet or talk on a mobile phone at a restaurant. A full 37 percent of surveyors typically make their dinner reservations online, up from 24 percent just two years ago, and 20 percent report having downloaded restaurant-related apps on their smartphone.
  • Health wanted: NYC's Health Department adopted a letter-grade system this year.  The system requires the prominent posting of inspection results – a move that surveyors approve of by an 83 percent to 17 percent margin. A full 42 percent believe the government should require restaurants to reduce the amount of salt in their dishes but 49 percent oppose a tax on sugary drinks.
  • Demand for ‘Green’: When it comes to greening, 61 percent of surveyors think food should be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised, and 49 percent are willing to pay more for it.

The new guide, available in bookstores, online and via Zagat's mobile products, covers a record 2,115 restaurants as voted on by 40,569 local diners.

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