At long last, following Google's 2011 acquisition of Zagat, the famed restaurant guidebook's quote-heavy reviews and ratings are now available for all to see, for free. It was clear from the outset of the deal that Google was going to go toe-to-toe with Yelp after a deal to acquire that company fell through, and that it would therefore be pulling Zagat's content out from behind its paywall. Today, that has happened, via a big redesign and relaunch.
Zagat, stubbornly, had only been allowing registered subscribers to see its reviews online since the early days of the internet, a strategy that likely only made them a few dollars in New York City, where the guide reigned supreme for decades among restaurant-goers. Now, the dream of a Google-maps-enabled restaurant guide for eight U.S. cities, as well as an accompanying app for the iPhone and Android, has been made real, and in addition to Zagat's signature, curated capsule reviews, there are Google user reviews for each place as an added bonus. The new online Zagat covers S.F. in addition to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, D.C., and Austin. They will also be continuing to print guidebooks, too, for those who still use physical books.
The Zagat guide has never had quite the traction in the Bay Area as it does in New York and elsewhere, and being at the center of the dot com boom meant that San Franciscans always turned to the internet for free restaurant listings and reviews, leading to the prominence and power of Yelp. But what many complain about with Yelp — like the ability of restaurants to pad their own reviews with positive ones from friends, and the general chaos that comes from user-generated content alone — is improved upon by Zagat's model of curating diner reviews via their annual surveys in order to create capsule reviews and ratings that nonetheless reflect the opinions of the restaurant's audience. Their rating system, based around a 30-point scale, includes separate ratings for food, decor, and service. They also make it easy to find places with particular features, like outdoor seating, and using the ratings, they create ranked best-of lists in various categories, like Best Ethiopian and Best Brunch, which are now available via advanced search on the Places tab.
And FYI, the three restaurants with the highest food ratings in the Bay Area (all 29) are Gary Danko, The French Laundry, and Keiko in Nob Hill.
Below, a video illustrating the new app.