ZAGAT Getting Usurped As Resto Go-To Guide

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By Courtney Cochran

In a world where blogs and user reviews - AKA the wisdom of the crowd - carry ever-increasing weight, it seems only natural that the pioneer of the user-as-expert theory where restaurants are concerned would still carry significant clout.  And indeed, Zagat still boasts some serious cred with consumers, as evidenced by the widely-noted release of the group's 2009 America's Top Restaurants survey yesterday.
Paucity of Eateries Reviewed  = Serious Problem
Yet the guide covers just 1,516 eateries across 45 markets, a number that strikes me as tiny compared to the thousands upon thousands of restaurants reviewed at Yelp.com, the popular user review site with the tagline "real people, real reviews." (There are thousands of restaurants in San Francisco alone.) At the latter, anyone with a user account (which is free), can post a review about any restaurant, which makes for an undeniably rich pool of reviews for folks to choose from - particularly as the site gains critical mass. And again, it's free, which makes the for-pay Zagat guide and online subscription model begin to seem like a seriously outdated system.

To be fair, Zagat DOES streamline user reviews into brief, best-of-breed reviews highlighting a good cross-section of restaurants' attributes, which sounds pretty nice when you consider the one-sided rants and obsessed-with-single-topic (e.g. stemware or service or clientele) reviews Yelp generates more often than - I'm sure - its founders would like. And Zagat has clearly done its homework, surveying some 145,000 people across 25 million meals for the 2009 guide alone - but with more and more diners turning to free reviews online, I predict the Zagat guide's days are numbered.

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