The Post tells us that the Zagats, after failing to sell their business for $200 million, are “struggling to keep it afloat.” Sales are “down dramatically,” according to an insider, and traffic at the website is trending downward, hence sixteen recent layoffs. Meanwhile, Yelp has almost doubled its traffic to more than 7 million U.S. visitors. It’s a sad picture, since Zagat was probably the original Yelp, in the way it democratized restaurant reviewing (albeit with tight-gripped editorial control). But as foodies became more sophisticated, simple adjectives like “stunning” and “impeccable” wouldn’t do — and even though Zagat’s full website (which costs $25 to access) does incorporate thousands of full reader reviews, most of them are still only a few sentences long, if that.
Although Zagat boasts 738 member reviews for Per Se, for instance, many of them read simply “don’t get the hype” and “worth every dime,” or just “heaven.” It seems the Zagat user has been trained to speak in sound bites. Take a look at the 177 Yelp reviews, however, and you’ll find breakdowns of every dish, etc., right down to the courier that the restaurant uses to fly in its fish from Japan. Even if Zagat were to eliminate its registration fee, it’s uncertain whether it could bring the sort of enthusiasm you see on Yelp. People still imagine Zagat’s typical user to be Patrick Bateman — someone who cares about restaurants but only on a highly superficial level.
Anyway, it’s interesting to see that some of the concerns about ballot-stuffing that have plagued Zagat are now surfacing at Yelp. As Diner’s Journal points out, the company has posted some advice to business owners, urging them, among other things, not to offer discounts for favorable reviews.