ALEX COHEN, host:
From lux barbershops to less than lux restaurants. Say you're visiting Seattle or Boston or Dallas and you want to find that just-right sushi joint or the latest trendy restaurant, a lot of folks turn to the Zagat guides. Those are the ones compiled from surveys of diners.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Now Zagat is branching out - and maybe down - to fast food. The company just published its first ratings for chain restaurants. Joining me now is the man behind the ratings, Tim Zagat. Welcome to the show.
Mr. TIM ZAGAT (Creator and Publisher, Zagat Survey): Hi. Don't say down.
Mr. ZAGAT: We all eat in fast food restaurants if we have children.
BRAND: Okay, first things first. Gourmands everywhere, even those without children, want to know what's the best fast food.
Mr. ZAGAT: Well, it depends on what you're looking for. The whole industry is designed for different tastes. I mean, if you want the best burger, you are going to go to Wendy's. The best French fries are McDonald's by a country mile. If you want the best chicken, Chick-fil-A.
BRAND: Chick what?
Mr. ZAGAT: Chick-fil-A. I didn't know how to pronounce it either when we started the survey. But it's the most popular chicken, followed by KFC and Popeye's. There's also big differences between some of the mass chains, for example, Wendy's, which is number one of your mega chains, and smaller chains like Panera Bread, which most people haven't heard of, but it's really wonderful. And then you have full-service chains, which are more like the family dining places.
Among the full service chains it's Outback, Olive Garden, Applebee's, Chili's, and TGI Fridays. Among the mega chains it's Wendy's, Subway, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King. The biggest problem that I - I think it's a huge problem for the industry is that 93 percent of our surveyors said they were concerned about the healthiness of what they were eating. When 93 percent of your customers are worried, you've got a problem.
BRAND: Are they worried about the fact that there aren't enough healthy options, not enough salads, those kinds of things (unintelligible) burgers?
Mr. ZAGAT: Well, we surveyed for healthy options. Subway and Quizno's did pretty well on healthy options. But the average for healthy options was not particularly good. For example, 27 percent of people said that they would eat out more if trans fats were banned absolutely.
BRAND: Did you go and sample all these restaurants as well?
Mr. ZAGAT: We never ourselves do it. We survey people that go to the places who are typical customers. The average person that we surveyed, the 5,500, went 12 times a month to fast food places.
BRAND: Wow, so they know their fast food.
Mr. ZAGAT: Yeah. But, you know, there's a tendency when you sit down to fast food. I think we, you know, there's an easy eating tendencies that, you know, fast food is not really upper-class dining, which it isn't. But, you know, we all do it. Anybody who has had kids, I couldn't - when my children were younger, I couldn't avoid fast food because that's where they wanted to go. They were sold on it, and therefore everybody at some time or another practically uses fast food.
BRAND: Okay, so if you had to choose one fast food restaurant, you, Tim Zagat, which one would you choose?
Mr. ZAGAT: I never vote and I never say how I personally feel. I think if you're going to run an election, you don't want to be like Catherine Harris in Florida. You don't pick a candidate and then try to be a neutral person counting the votes. I think you've got to completely avoid that answer.
Mr. ZAGAT: But I like fast food in general.
BRAND: Okay. Tim Zagat, founder of the Zagat survey, out with a new rating system for fast food restaurants. Thanks a lot.
Mr. ZAGAT: Thank you.