Food Culture recently had the opportunity to speak with the people behind the Zagat Survey, the publisher of those ubiquitous, burgundy-colored restaurant, travel, and entertainment guides -- and stickers we see on the door or window once we enter a restaurant. What to expect? More mobile products and content.
How has the demand for user-generated reviews grown in the last ten, five or even one year?
Our business, from its beginning in 1979, has been based on the simple premise that the shared opinions of thousands of avid customers are inherently more accurate than the opinions of just one or two critics. The term “user generated content” had yet to be coined. The demand for user generated reviews has grown enormously in the past few years.How do you source your reviewers? Has that changed over time?
Since we began in 1979, we have targeted frequent, knowledgeable customers to be our surveyors. While we actually knew most of the original 200 surveyors, obviously we do not personally know our current 375,000 surveyors worldwide. However, we still target the same type of people.
Do you see Yelp as a competitor?
Zagat Survey is unique in the way we create our content. Our goal is to provide the most accurate and reliable ratings and reviews to enable consumers to make smart decisions and take action. We have achieved that goal by maintaining strict standards in our surveying process and avoiding conflicts.
Does Zagat see greater demand for its digital products than for its books and traditional publishing products?
While the demand for our digital products is growing fastest, we have taken a “platform agnostic” approach to our products, making our content available to consumers wherever and whenever they want it – in book form, on ZAGAT.com, via downloadable applications for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and smartphones, and ZAGAT.mobi, a universally accessible mobile website. While we are proud to be the best-selling restaurant guides in bookstores, we are equally proud that our iPhone application is the highest-grossing iPhone travel app.
Have you closed or "sunsetted" some product lines because there was lack of demand?
We are always experimenting with different areas of travel and leisure and evolving to fit the needs of our consumers. As we focus our efforts on our digital products, in smaller U.S. and European cities, we now offer exclusively online and mobile content.In what lifestyle category do you see the fastest growth for demand of your products (wine, cruises, restaurants in a particular city, etc.)? What's next or on the horizon for Zagat?
This year we are focusing on the expansion of our mobile business, including our already exciting applications for iPhone and Android that feature offline capability and augmented reality (among other features), with much more around the bend. We are particularly proud of our Zagat Wine Club, which has proven successful since its launch in September 2009.