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NY Zagat results: Consumers seek intimate dining, local foods, improved service


NEW YORK Dining out in smaller, intimate eateries, ordering more local, sustainably raised foods and being treated to better service are top factors on consumers' checklists here when they're deciding where to eat out, according to the 2008 Zagat Survey of New York City Restaurants.

In a nod to the "green" movement, 52 percent of Zagat reviewers said they were willing to pay more for food that is sustainably raised, and 50 percent indicated they also would pay more for organic items.

The move toward smaller plates and larger-sized venues in New York seemed not to have a big effect on respondents, as 75 percent of them said they thought traditional, standard-sized plates provided better value. Responses further indicated that smaller dining rooms were attended more frequently than the huge mega-sized restaurants opening up around Manhattan. Another trend cited was the dressing down of dining out. Reviewers claimed they liked to dine out at less-formal fine-dining restaurants.

The survey, which was released this month, gave the New York City dining scene high marks for diversity and creativity but ranked service and table availability at the bottom rung of the restaurant-experience ladder. In fact, 50 percent of those surveyed said poor hospitality was the most irritating part of dining out, while another 34 percent indicated noise and crowds annoyed them. An additional 11 percent indicated that inflated prices were a deal breaker for them.

The survey also established New York as the nation's most expensive dining-out city. Respondents to the survey paid an average of $39.46 per dinner. The national average is $33.29, according to Zagat's recently released 2008 America's Top Restaurants Survey. That survey noted that New Orleans and Austin, Texas, are the nation's least-expensive cities for dining out, with an average tab of $26.18 and $25.30, respectively. The average tabs include the cost of dinner, one drink and tip.

Still, check averages in New York City rose only 3 cents compared with last year. The trend was attributed to the increased number of new, inexpensive restaurants that opened and the 697 other eateries offering dinner for under $30.

"That the average restaurant remains so affordable should be celebrated," said Tim Zagat, co-founder and chief executive of Zagat Survey.

This year's data was collected from consumers patronizing some 2,069 restaurants across New York City's five boroughs. It found there were 234 notable openings of restaurants and only 88 closings in the past year. In another sign of growth, 56 percent of those polled said they were spending more than they did last year, while only 6 percent said they were spending less.

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