The new Zagat guide is out for 2012 covering 1,352 restaurants from the Keys to Jensen Beach, and in an odd add-on, Naples.
Cafe L’Europe is the prettiest
Best servers in Palm Beach
For top service, head to Palm Beach for Cafe L’Europe – the only restaurant that scored 27. Others at 26 are Chez Jean-Pierre, Four Seasons, Flagler Steakhouse (Palm Beach), Chops Lobster Bar (Boca), Marcello’s La Sirena and Cafe Boulud.
Cost of a meal in top three in nation
On average, South Florida residents paid an average of $40.70, behind only New York City ($43.36) and Las Vegas ($47.53). But diners here like the restaurants and over a third (38 percent) think they’ve improved since last year.
Survey of diners
For 11 years, I’ve been the “local” editor for the Palm Beach section. Local editors are given all the scores and numbers assigned to restaurants, gleaned from hundreds of surveys filled out by diners.
Tim Zagat, who started this survey in New York City in 1979 with a handful of friends, is a statatician. For him, everything is all about numbers.
He tapped diners who eat out frequently, and who visit a variety of restaurants, to give him feedback based on numbers and scores in a voting process.
Using his math skills, he takes off the very top and very bottom of the numbers, weeds out the ones obviously trying to skew the scores, averages them and winnows them down to several decimals, then hands over the numbers to the editors with their ratings.
Capsules gleaned from diner comments
Up until this year, we editors wrote the blurbs that describe the restaurants based on comments and a formula. Every blurb covers neighborhood, decor, food, service and price – all while using the quoted comments from the surveyors to make the points shown by the numbers.
This year, for the first time, the capsules were written in the main New York office by Zagat editors. Local editors were on board to fact check and submit information about closings, openings and changes, as well as providing details of the restaurants featured.
We proofed the final books, and subjective categories (kid-friendly, good for singles, etc.). We made changes that will appear on updates online, and will continue to provide edits to the online version which keeps current with local happenings.
America’s dining habits on average
Along with the rankings, Zagat takes notes of dining habits. South Florida diners eat out 3.4 meals a week, while Houston beats them, eating out 4 meals per week. Nationwide, that average is 3.1 meals a week, down from 3.3 in 2008 – likely a sign of the economic times.
Diners are not fond of service – 66 percent of them say it’s their No. 1 complaint about restaurants. South Florida diners are harsher – 72 percent of them have service complaints. Still, diners tip well – up to 19.2 percent on average in New Orleans and around 18 percent for other major cities.
While it’s OK to take photos of your food at a restaurant or of dinner companions, a majority say they dislike texting and phone calls at the table.
And a heads up for restaurateurs: 69 percent of South Florida diners won’t wait more than 30 minutes to be seated; 15 percent won’t patronize a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations.
Want to be a surveyor?
If you’re a frequent diner and want to get in on surveys here or in other cities around the world you are familiar with, go to Zagat.com and register free to vote. Right now, votes are being taken for Atlanta restaurants.
You also can write in and submit a restaurant for consideration. Not all will appear; there are several restaurant owners who decline to participate.
The guide to the best restaurants around the country also is out – America’s Top Restaurants 2012. Zagat also ranks hotels and golf courses worldwide and surveyors are encouraged to weigh in on those as well.