Last week the food world was side-swiped by major news that Google was buying Zagat, with the potential goal of giving Yelp a run for its money. As the once-compulsory Zagat Guide tends to bring up a slew of split reactions on its own, we thought it the right time to see how some big name chefs feel about Google’s big-plate purchase. We sought out L.A.’s own Micah Wexler, Karen Hatfield, and Evan Gotanda for answers, and even managed to catch opposing opinions from Jacob Sessoms of Asheville, North Carolina’s Table and Chris Lusk of New Orlean’s Cafe Adelaide. What does this deal mean for the world of restaurants and chefs? Will it burnish or polish Zagat’s image? Might it shift the playing field back to Zagat from Yelp? Read below to see what these five chefs had to say.
Micah Wexler, Mezze: "I grew up with Zagat. When I was a kid starting out in kitchens, Zagat was like the gold standard. My restaurant friends and I would literally memorize the ratings and test each other. In the ‘90’s Zagat was way ahead of the curve in terms of aggregating what a bunch of people thought about a restaurant into a rating that made sense. Over the last decade they’ve lost a lot of ground. I think teaming up with a company like Google has the ability to take them back to the top. In my mind Zagat has always been a much more trustworthy system than Yelp and I look forward to them becoming a more major player."
Karen Hatfield, Hatfield’s: "It will be interesting to see what happens. I know the guide may have been getting a bit outdated, but I loved going to the bookstore the day it came out to get my copy. The local food critics, the Yelpers, and Zagat guide are the cities’ best resources for where to eat. They all potentially have very different styles and may also speak to a specific demographic, which I think is really important. My fear is that Zagat will become too much like Yelp and not maintain enough of its own identity."
Evan Gotanda, Drago: "It’ll be nice to have a different kind of rating system so easily available, but I don’t think it will change things much. Yelp has such a big following, it’s gonna be hard to compete with that."
Jacob Sessoms, Table, Asheville, N.C.: "Google’s now going to monitor your dining and food interests and try to sell the consumer more crap. And, in time, try to push harder on restaurants for advertising dollars. I really think that Zagat’s will be utter crap. Let’s consider Michelin: a guide created, originally, to serve a company by honestly guiding traveling executives and employees throughout Europe with real dining/lodging suggestions. Now think about a dining guide owned by the largest and most aggressively advertising driven search engine. Who wins? Not you or I."
Chris Lusk, Café Adelaide, New Orleans: "I think it is good for Google to compete with Yelp, Chowhound, etcetera. People who use these sites are accustomed to them and might not even be that familiar with Zagat. This could open people’s eyes to a more informed type of restaurant review."