Because Gayle love, love, loves good food, she's talking to Tim Zagat, cofounder of Zagat Survey, the world's leading provider of consumer survey-based dining, travel and leisure information. Gayle talks to Tim about how he got his start in the business and what makes Zagat's reviews stand out.
Tim and his wife Nina, both lawyers by profession, began surveying restaurants as a hobby in the mid 1970s. Tim says the surveys were so popular among their friends, his wife suggested they charge a small fee for them. A few years later, they had a cover story in New York magazine and were bringing in half a million dollars a month in revenues.
Tim and Nina established Zagat Survey in 1979, and today they have over 300,000 surveyors in 85 cities around the world. In addition to reviewing restaurants, Zagat surveyors rate hotels, resorts, spas and more. Tim says surveyors are not professional critics, rather they are everyday people who know and love what they write about.
Tim says that he and his wife are also big-time food lovers—his wife attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, and the couple dines out an average eight to nine times each week. But he says he and his wife have never voted in a Zagat survey. "It runs counter to the whole idea," Tim says. "We don't want to be seen as the people voting on the restaurants, we want [you] to come and vote!"
One of the great advantages of having thousands of surveyors as opposed to an individual critic is you can have more than one point of view, Tim says—which is helpful for reviewing, say, a trendy hotspot. "The 20-year-olds say, 'Lively, exiting fun,' and the parents of those 20-year-olds say, 'Crowded, noisy and oppressive,'" he says.
Tim says Zagat helps both diners and restaurant owners make better decisions, even when a restaurant receives a bad review. "We're telling them what their customers think. If we say something negative, they ought to thank us because it's better to know that you have a problem than not," he says.
What began as a hobby, Zagat is now the world's best-selling publisher of restaurant guides. Zagat Survey stickers can also be seen prominently displayed in the windows of restaurants worldwide. "I can't tell you how cool it is, it makes me feel really good!" Tim says.