The economy may be cooling down, but that hasn't prevented the competition among restaurant review guides from heating up. USA TODAY's Jerry Shriver talked to the heads of the three guides to find out what's on their plates for 2008.
The France-based company, which has been the dominant voice in hotel and restaurant ratings in Europe for more than a century, continues to widen its scope with the release this month of Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008, its first Asian venture (a $12.95 English-language edition arrives in January). Michelin surprised the food world by awarding Tokyo's eateries 191 stars, the most of any city anywhere. Eight restaurants received the top three-star rating. (By comparison, Paris has 98 total stars and 10 three-star restaurants.)
Earlier this fall, the company published new editions of its New York and San Francisco guides and introduced its first guides for Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Michelin director Jean-Luc Naret says additional cities in the USA and Asia will be added within the next two years but won't say where. "It's definitely a big step for us."
In the two new domestic guides, Joel Robuchon at the Mansion in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is the only restaurant to win three-star recognition from the team of anonymous inspectors. "All these (Las Vegas) restaurants have incredible potential — it's all about consistency, so next year should be better for some," Naret says.
Also in 2008, Michelin plans to develop a stronger michelinguide.com site for the USA, he says. In Europe, its michelin.com is the most-visited travel site, he says, and provides visitors with tools such as maps, driving directions and GPS navigation. "We just need to adapt that for the U.S.," he says.
Having conquered the domestic market with its dark-red restaurant guides during the past two decades, Zagat continues to widen its coverage here and abroad, using its trademark populist survey approach. This summer, the company launched Zagat.mobi, a website that makes dining and travel content viewable on smart phones and other mobile devices. A redesigned Zagat.com site with improved mapping technology is scheduled to make its debut in December.
"Two years ago, we surveyed maybe 45 cities, and now there are 88. By the end of 2008, we could be up to 120," says Tim Zagat, company co-founder with wife Nina.
In March, the company will launch its first-ever guides for Beijing and Hong Kong and an updated guide for Shanghai, in anticipation of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Among 20-plus U.S. cities under consideration for 2008 are Memphis, Nashville, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, and Louisville, as well as Aspen, Colo., Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. Depending on the amount of information the survey collects, some cities will get their own guide, some will be folded into existing guides, and some will wind up as online-only content, Zagat says.
Zagat also plans to expand its new series of combined guides that include reviews of hotels, spas, tourist attractions and nightlife and shopping options as well as restaurants. New Orleans and London launched this year, and that concept will expand to Las Vegas and other cities in 2008.
"Most people think of us first as a restaurant source, but we're doing a lot more," Tim Zagat says.
Opinionated About Dining
Steve Plotnicki believes it's possible to combine elements of the Zagat populist approach and Michelin's ultra-discerning rating method into a guide that's more timely and meaningful for experienced diners.
A veteran music industry executive based in New York, Plotnicki has been writing a fine-dining blog (oad.typepad.com) for five years. Earlier this year, he invited about 500 of his most widely traveled readers to participate in a survey of the world's top restaurants. He weighted those responses, based upon the reviewers' experience with international dining, and in October began publishing some of the results on opinionatedabout.com. The final results are to be published in book form in March as The Top 100 Restaurants in North America & Europe, which he plans to sell through the website.
"It occurred to me that the best information was coming from people who had the most dining experience," says Plotnicki, who notes that his current panelists have eaten at an average of 125 of the world's best restaurants.
By using one panel overall instead of the collection of mostly local panels that Zagat uses, and by updating his entries frequently instead of once every year or two as do Zagat and Michelin, Plotnicki thinks he has "come up with a better wheel."
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