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Zagat: Recession left mark on NYC dining scene

Economic crisis gives rise to more casual eateries as diners cut spending

New York's dining scene is still feeling the effects of the recession, according to the latest Zagat Survey for the city.

Zagat, which released its 2011 restaurant guide for New York on Wednesday, said 27 percent of its surveyors reported eating out less than they did six months ago and only 11 percent said they are dining out more. The company also noted that the number of meals surveyors ate at restaurants per week declined to 3.0 this year from 3.3 before the recession.

The average per-person price of a meal topped out at $41.76, a small decrease from $41.81 a year ago and the first time since 2002 that meal prices in the city had declined, Zagat said.

“New Yorkers are feeling the lasting effects of the economic crisis and we’re seeing some fundamental changes in their dining habits as a result,” said Tim Zagat, co-founder and chief executive of Zagat Survey.

The New York survey, which covers 2,115 restaurants voted on by 40,569 diners, found 123 new restaurants opened in the city this year, but the majority of them were casual in theme and modest in price, such as sandwich shops, pizza places, fried chicken restaurants and burger bars.

“The best restaurants will continue to be full, but the era of the 30-day wait is over, and casual, less expensive restaurants have come to dominate the market,” Zagat said.

Upscale restaurants continued to top the rankings, however. Le Bernardin was selected as having the best food, while Per Se earned the top ranking for service. Union Square Hospitality Group's Gramercy Tavern was named most popular — the sixth time in 10 years — and its Maialino trattoria is this year’s No. 1 rated newcomer.

The latest survey for New York also included food trucks for the first time, and Zagat noted that 26 percent of surveyors said they ate food from the gourmet trucks. The top three trucks in the city were Wafels & Dinges, Street Sweets, and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream.

The survey also looked at health and green issues. Zagat noted that 83 percent of surveyors said they approved of New York’s new letter-grading inspection system. Another 61 percent said they thought the food served in restaurants should be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised, and, of those polled, 49 percent said they were willing to pay more for that option.

In terms of rating the New York's dining scene, respondents rated hospitality a 17 on a scale of 30 points, compared with a rating of 15 before the recession. Table availability ranked 14 compared with 13, and complaints about crowding and noise dropped to 23 percent from 33 percent before the economic crisis began.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].

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