Small Is the New Big in New York

How many restaurants have gotten the boot?

I’d say less than you might imagine. On the whole, most places try to comply with the rules. But it’s not an insignificant number of places that have been put out of the survey. We don’t publicize it.

So you’re not gonna name names?

That’s right. We think the punishment is sufficient enough just by being left out of the guide.

Which is more devastating to a restaurant: being left out of the Zagat Survey for a whole year or being panned by New York Times critic Frank Bruni?

I don’t know how they feel about Mr. Bruni.

Health inspections are much on the minds of restaurateurs. According to last year’s survey, service, noise/crowds and prices (in that order) were diners’ top three concerns. Where do you think food safety ranks among patrons’ priorities?

I don’t think people go to restaurants worrying, ‘Is my food going to be safe? Is this place clean?’ Certainly, if a place looks unappealing, that may influence your desire to go there. But when people go out to eat, I don’t think that’s top on their minds. I think they assume that the Health Department is doing its job.

Eleven of the city’s top 50 restaurants in the 2007 survey were in the outer boroughs. In 2006, there were nine; in 2005, there were six; in 2004, four. To what do you attribute the steady increase?

I think that restaurants have gotten stronger all over the city, and there are growing populations of people really interested in great food all over the city. I think one of the things that the survey really helps people do is find a place in a part of town that otherwise they wouldn’t expect.

Will anyone ever topple Danny Meyer from the top of the most-popular list?

Well, what I have here is a list of the 20 most popular, starting in 1983, and you’ll see that from ’83 to ’88, Lutèce was the most popular. From ’89 to ’91, the Four Seasons was the most popular. Then, from ’92 to ’96, Bouley was the most popular. Then, from ’97 until 2002, [Mr. Meyer’s] Union Square Café was the most popular. From ’03 through ’07, Union Square Café and  [Mr. Meyer’s] Gramercy Tavern have been alternating.

Interesting. So, once you get to the top spot, it’s almost like you’re elected to a four-year term?

Well, the Four Seasons only made it for three.