Zagat survey finds New Yorkers tolerate higher prices, crowds for a good meal

Diners eat at the sidewalk tables at DBGB Kitchen and Bar on the Bowery near Houston Street in New York City on July 21, 2013
Diners eat at the sidewalk tables at DBGB Kitchen and Bar on the Bowery near Houston Street in New York City on July 21, 2013 Photo Credit: Instagram user newyork_natalia_moscow

New Yorkers will put up with a lot and spend more than just about anyone for a good meal — but they are less patient with noisy restaurants and cellphone use at the table, according to a Zagat survey released Wednesday.

And comparing our “New York values” with other cities across the country shows that New Yorkers, despite their reputation as demanding, have quite the tolerance for what it takes to dine out in the Big Apple, such as waiting two hours in a crush with many other hungry New Yorkers at hot spots such as Mission Chinese Food.

“I think New Yorkers are kind of used to being packed together, kind of accepting it as a sad reality,” said Evan Barbour, a spokeswoman for Zagat. “It’s like they take pride in it. I think New Yorkers just accept the competition can be a bit fierce for a table.”

New Yorkers pay the most in the country per meal: $48.44 per person, or about 33% more than the national average of $36.30. Only 15% are turned off by the steeper prices. That is only slightly higher than the national average of 13% bothered by the bill.

“The fact that people would pay so much money in New York City for a meal says something about the overall experience,” said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “People want to go out, they want to eat in our restaurants and they’ll spend the money to do so.”

More than 9,200 people participated in Zagat’s nationwide online survey, including 958 New Yorkers.

Diners in the city interviewed Wednesday thought the survey reflected New Yorkers’ acceptance of big-city dining realities. When Zagat asked people what irritated them the most, the New Yorkers who cited service were on par with the national average. It was a bigger beef in Austin, Texas, and Denver, among other places.

“We live in a fast-paced city, so we understand what the servers go through,” said Jane Marantz, 71, who had just finished lunch with a friend at Bar Boulud. “I think New Yorkers have to be more tolerant to survive here.”

When it comes to actually hearing yourself think in a restaurant, on the other hand, we tend to be a bit less forgiving. A total of 32% of New Yorkers surveyed were angered by noise — the largest complaint of the bunch and higher than the 25% national average.

“When people go out to dine, whether it’s with their family or a significant other or a business meeting, they want to be able to converse,” Rigie said.

“What’s interesting is that more and more restaurants are providing really high quality cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere that tends to be more crowded, more noisy,” he added. “Even though it annoys people in many cases, it appears they’re willing to put up with that annoyance.”

Zanden Hogrelius, a 24-year-old actor and server from Sunnyside, Queens, sees noise as a natural part of the experience.

“Going out is a communal thing,” he said. “It would be weird if it were too quiet and you weren’t surrounded by the buzz of being out.”

New Yorkers tend to eat out an average of 5.6 times per week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That is slightly more than the national average of 5.3 times per week.

Jordan Cain, a 35-year-old stylist from the Mott Haven area of the Bronx, said he appreciates the face time eating out gives him with his girlfriend.

“Eighty percent of the communication I have with my girlfriend is over the phone,” he said, “so we appreciate each other more when we sit down for dinner.”

Other ways New Yorkers stand apart:


New Yorkers tip 19.2%, slightly higher than the national average of 18.9%. Boston took first place at 20%. San Antonio, Texas, was the stingiest, at 17.1%, of the 26 cities that were ranked.


A total of 45% of New Yorkers think it is completely unacceptable to use your phone at the table in anything other than an emergency. This is more than the 40% of people nationwide who feel the same. If you want to pull your phone out, head to Honolulu where only 22% find it unacceptable.

Food we love:

Italian is by far the most popular cuisine in the city, the favorite of 33% of those surveyed. New Yorkers eat more Italian than anyone in the country, where the national average is only 22%.

Elsewhere, favorites varied by region. Dallas-Fort Worth diners prefer Mexican. Honolulu’s top choice is Japanese. New Orleans savors seafood. And Nashville likes “American” cuisine.

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