Zagat Survey has released the results of its 2011 America's Top Restaurants guide, reporting the opinions and habits of more than 153,000 avid diners. The survey includes ratings and reviews of the 1,552 top restaurants countrywide. Results are available on ZAGAT.com, via Zagat's suite of mobile products and in bookstores. Ealier this year, the high-end foodservice publisher released results on specific markets; this is the U.S. overview.
Among the survey's interesting findings: More than half of restaurant-goers would like restrictions on Wi-Fi usage; higher-end restaurants are coming back en vogue; and New Orleans has the lowest average meal cost (at least for fine dining).
WiFi rules: As more and more restaurants and public spaces offer free Wi-Fi to customers, 60 percent of surveyors feel restaurants should restrict how long you can linger at a table during peak hours. When asked about texting, tweeting and talking at the table, 63 percent of surveyors said it's rude and inappropriate, but 85 percent feel it's acceptable to take pictures of food and each other.
Eating out frequency: As expected during these tough economic times, surveyors report eating out less (3.1 times per week down from 3.3 pre-recession), being more attentive to prices (39 percent), eating in less expensive places (33 percent) and cutting back on alcohol, appetizers and desserts (17 percent to 21 percent).
High and low-end markets: The national average price of a meal rose 2.2 percent in the past year to $35.37. New Orleans has the lowest average meal cost ($28.36), and the highest average percent tip at 19.7 percent (vs. the national average of 19.2 percent). Other high-end tippers include Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Ohio, all at 19.6 percent. Hawaii is at the low-end (18.4 percent), followed by such western cities, Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle, each at 18.6. When it comes to paying the check, 50 percent of surveyors either avoid cash-only eateries or spend less when dining there.
Back to the big time: In the last few years, many major restaurateurs and chefs bowed to the economic times and opened casual, affordable eateries. This year, there was a return to pricey form, signaling that high-end dining is far from dead.
Green: When it comes to healthy dining, 68 percent of surveyors said it is important that the food they eat is locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised, and 60 percent said they are even willing to pay more for it. Moreover, 31 percent seek out restaurants specializing in such 'green' cuisine.
The 2011 America's Top Restaurants guide is $15.95 and on sale at all major bookstores.