SmartMoney has asked a question we often hear: Can Zagat reviews really be trusted? The long and well-researched article describes a number of questionable practices by the company, mostly centering around their cozy relationship with the restaurant community and their immense power over it. Having actually co-edited a Zagat dining guide, Long Island Restaurants 2006/07 (that was the beginning and the end of our professional relationship), we feel pretty secure in saying that the Zagats don’t need any help inflating grades (if in fact that’s what they’re doing).
We saw all the raw data: How many respondents there were for each restaurant, the nature of the remarks, how said remarks varied, and much else that is hidden from the reader’s eyes. The bottom line is most people who provide quotes to Zagat eat frequently in just a few restaurants, which they wildly overrate. In the Long Island guide, nearly every sushi restaurant was praised as having (we’re making these up, because we’re clever that way) “sushi so fresh you’ll think you’re swimming in the ocean,” and every local Italian restaurant has “pasta to die for.” The respondents go wild with the numerical ratings as well. The Zagats may well be power mad, and the way they do business may not exactly project an aura of incorruptibility, but the Zagat respondents need no help driving the ratings up through the roof.
Zagat Grade Inflation; Should You Trust the Reviews? [SmartMoney]