The brand-spankin'-new 2011 Zagat Survey is out, and I've just finished going through all the details of it to figure out how Seattle has fared in the past year. But first, before we get to all those thrilling statistics, here's a bit of pimping and a note on how the information was gathered by the folks at Zagat:
"Today, Zagat released the results of its 2011 Seattle Restaurants Survey [$13.95, edited by Cynthia Kilian and Alicia Comstock Arter], covering 828 eateries in the Seattle area based on the collective opinions of 2,970 local diners. All told, surveyors ate out some 448,000 times in the past year. The Survey results are available on ZAGAT.com, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in guides at major booksellers."
Okay, got all that? Now let's get into the numbers.
Overall, Seattle comes off in this year's survey as a cheap and environmentally conscious place to eat, overrun with food trucks and full of shitty servers who'll stick their thumbs in your soup--but probably only because we are all a bunch of cheap-ass bastards when it comes to tipping.
The average price of a meal rose this year from $27.68 to $29.33, but Seattle still ranks as the "second-most affordable dining locale that Zagat surveys in the country." The national average price of a meal is $35.32 but, honestly, all of those numbers seem ridiculously low to me--leading me to believe that a lot more people are sucking down McDonald's value meals than are admitting to it. Either that or the small, the weird and the ethnic restaurants are WAY more popular than any survey gives them credit for.
Seattleites, apparently, do not know how to tip. Or rather, they do know how to tip, but are relatively cheap about it. The national average tip is 19.2%. It's higher on the East Coast and lower on the West (which has been a long-time truth, but one that no one has ever adequately explained), but Seattle comes in almost a full percentage point below the average, at 18.6%.
36% of those surveyed say they frequent the city's food trucks (which might account for that low per-plate average), and 24% say they regularly follow their favorite trucks or restaurants via social networking sites. Right now, marketers everywhere are taking note of that figure and adjusting their tactics accordingly.
The survey (wisely) shows a correlation between the continued drop in meals eaten out (42% this year as opposed to 45% last year, and off from a high well over 50% before the economy went in the toilet) and the opening of several more casual, low-priced restaurants from big name restaurateurs. Specifically mentioned were Staple & Fancy from Ethan Stowell, Bisato (which replaced Lampreia), Seatown Seabar from Tom Douglas, Seth Caswell's Emmer & Rye, Marjorie and June.
More statistics: 78% of those surveyed said that it was "important that food be locally sourced, organic and sustainably raised" and 62% "would actually pay more" for food that meets their draconian hippie standards. Yeah, 62%. Again, chefs and marketers are currently going crazy trying to re-position themselves or their clients to score a little bit of that extra green-green. In this day, at this point in our economic history, it strikes me (and the folks from the Zagat survey, I think) as mind-boggling that those numbers would be so high. Though any numbers gotten here will be obviously heavily skewed by the fact that only serious, hardcore foodistas are taking the time to participate in the survey, that 62% figure seems incredible. It's just not that often that you see anyone willing to pay more for what, in most cases, is only a presumed increase in quality.
But I digress...
The biggest complaint among Seattle diners was the service they receive in restaurants. In another Really Big Number, 69% of respondents tagged "service" as the thing that pisses them off the most when dining out. Compare that to 9% complaining about noise, 9% naming the food as their biggest problem and just 5% saying price.
In terms of Top Food, Cafe Juanita in Kirkland came back with the highest overall score (a 28 out of 30, just one point below Le Bernardin's incredibly rare 29, and comparable to the scores gotten by Per Se and Daniel, for example). Wild Ginger was the Most Popular restaurant in the city. Top scores in Decor went to The Georgian (in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel). And for Service, The Herbfarm came out at #1. Oh, and you wanna know something funny? Guess who scored second-highest when it came to food? Paseo. Which is just awesome. Nicely done, Seattle.