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This weekend, Tiffany Barbalato, director of communications for Zagat, e-mailed to address some of the questions raised in two Y&H posts from last week, the first wondering about Makoto‘s quick ascendancy to (and permanent place among) D.C.’s top restaurants and the other detailing Zagat’s oddly duplicate guides on even years. Barbalato was responding for Olga Boikess, the local D.C. Zagat editor who’s on vacation.
Makoto, Barbalato notes, actually edged out the Inn at Little Washington for the top spot in the 2009 and 2010 guides, which are based on the same survey data. “Makoto in fact has a higher score of 28.9024 vs. Inn at Little Washington with a 28.8495,” she writes. “We include an asterisk footnote in the guides to indicate when restaurants are in fact tied.”
Barbalato has an explanation for Makoto’s popularity: “Simply put, surveyors love its food, using words like ‘impeccable’ and ‘perfection’ to describe it. Americans’ appreciation for Japanese cuisine has grown dramatically over the last decade, not just in DC, but all over the country,” she writes.
The publicist can’t tell me, however, how many votes a restaurant must tally before its rating is deemed statistically acceptable to the Zagat powers.
As for the essentially duplicate guides on even years, Barbalato writes to say Zagat confesses right at the start of each book (and online) that the 2010 survey is just an update.
“As you know, we are adding new content to ZAGAT.com daily and encourage surveyors to vote and add member reviews year-round. However, the printed ‘2010 DC/Baltimore Survey is an update reflecting significant developments since our last Survey was published.’ (see first paragraph of book). As Michael Birchenall pointed out to you, we compile new survey results and prepare a new guide for Washington, DC/Baltimore every other year. This is why the winning restaurants and top lists you refer to in the 2010 guide are the same as last year’s.”
I wrote back to Barbalato to say I found her information lacking. First of all, I don’t think that Zagat’s language either in the book or online adequately conveys the idea that even-year guides are based on the previous year’s surveys. In other words, I don’t know if customers understand that they’re still paying for old data and old ratings. A lot can happen to a restaurant in one year’s time.
Second, I asked Zagat to address its historically opaque voting process and detail exactly how the guide deals with potential ballot-box stuffing. Until I can get a better grasp of how Zagat compiles survey data, and prevents fraud, I don’t think I can give the guide much credence.