Dilemmas: Zagat-Approved Advice On Choosing A Restaurant Who better than the people who bring you the Zagat guides to advise you on choosing a restaurant? Fortunately, Tim Zagat gave us the scoop.
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Dilemmas: Zagat-Approved Advice On Choosing A Restaurant

Finding a restaurant: Sure, you could ask almost anybody, but why not try a genuine Zagat? iStockphoto.com hide caption

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While the recession may be curtailing some consumer spending, it looks like dining habits haven't changed as much as you might think.

More than 40 percent of Americans eat out a couple of of nights a week, and when they do, they're faced with the same agonizing and eternal question: Where should I go?

You could turn to your local newspaper, but then you're beholden to the opinion of just one critic. Of course with the advent of the Internet, there are plenty of sites that are willing to give you advice, like Yelp and Dine.com.

But I've always been a fan of the Zagat's little red books (and now also the Zagat website), because the Zagat approach is to rate restaurants based on the opinions of many, rather than only one.

Zagat's restaurant survey incorporates the opinions of 400,000 people voting on 40,000 restaurants that they evaluate for factors like food, price, decor and service.

According to founder Tim Zagat (that's "Zagat" like The Cat In The Hat, to settle a common point of befuddlement, and if you listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post, you'll hear him tell you so himself), what sets the Zagat survey apart lies in whose opinions are included. Zagat says his reviewers are "people who eat out all the time, people in white-collar jobs, the kinds of people who are members of the different food and wine societies."

With other sites that rely on mass reviewing, there's no way to know it's not the chef's mother giving the joint that five-star rating.

Despite all the opinions at his disposal, Tim Zagat will sometimes throw recommendations to the wind and try out a restaurant on his own. But that doesn't mean he sits down with a set of metrics and spends hours studying before he makes up his mind. He says, in fact, that he usually can get a solid sense of what's good just by standing in the doorway.

And you, too, can learn the art of snap judgment.

Straight from Tim Zagat, how to judge a restaurant in a jiffy, after the jump...

Zagat gives this advice for sizing up a restaurant:

• Go in and see