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Zagat survey: You're eating out less, looking for green deals

September 24, 2009 |  6:51 am


You aren't eating out as much. You're cooking at home more -- and enjoying it. But when you do eat out, you're looking for delicious deals or skimping on costly add-ons such as alcohol, bottled water, appetizers and dessert. And you're much more savvy about eating "green" and scouting out sustainably raised seafood and locally sourced, organic ingredients.

And you still tip less than the national average.

These are just some of the results of Zagat's annual survey, out today in advance of its 2010 Los Angeles/Southern California restaurant guide. Tim Zagat, who ushered in the ubiquitous wine-colored guides 30 years ago -- long before the trend of reader reviews was en vogue -- said the survey shows that the economic downturn is taking its toll on restaurants. But there is an upside to it all for consumers, he said.

Many reviewers said they felt as though they were eating more healthfully as a result of cutting back -- guess skipping that glass of wine and fried calamari will do that for you.

Restaurants also have an opportunity on their hands. People are not going to stop eating out -- our busy lives just won't allow for it. If people need to cut back, they will find cheaper restaurants. And therein lies the growth opportunity, he said: "Restaurants are doing more than ever to win back the customers, to be more price sensitive."

Some other study highlights:

-- Urasawa, Sushi Zo and Angelini Osteria were ranked 1 through 3, respectively, for their food. Pizzeria Mozza, Spago and (seemingly) everyone's favorite burger joint, In-N-Out, won the overall popularity contest among the 10,311 readers surveyed.

-- The Bazaar at SLS by José Andrés, Drago Centro and Church & State were ranked among the best newcomers, and the Bazaar also landed at the top of the best décor list, along with Penthouse at Huntley Santa Monica and the Madison.

-- The average L.A. restaurant bill is $34.95, right about the U.S. average. A meal at a high-end restaurant, however, cost an average $82.01, and that is down 2.2% over last year. Zagat said that was "a real change," adding that the smaller bill was indeed a sign of the times. "That's the first time I've seen that in 20 years in L.A."

-- Poor service continues to be diners' pet peeve. More people are making reservations through the Internet, Italian is still the favorite cuisine of choice, and traffic is so bad that it determines whether some diners are willing to travel to a particular restaurant.

-- Communal tables continue to be shunned by the masses, with 38% saying they would only choose to dine at a communal table as a last resort.

-- Another big change, Zagat said, is diners' awareness about what they are eating. Nearly 75% said it was important to have healthy alternatives on a menu, and more than 60% said they want their food to be "green" -- locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised. Perhaps more importantly, 58% said they were wiling to pay more for that.

"Five years ago, you couldn't find five people who knew what 'sustainably raised' was," Zagat said. "There has been a sea change in attitude."

So why are Angelenos worse tippers than their New York counterparts?

"It's always been that way," Zagat said. "Don't ask me why."

-- Rene Lynch