How Zagat Became an Empire

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An Everyman's Guide: Zagat Ranks Fast Feeders

The Zagat Survey has come a long way since 1979, when New York lawyers Tim and Nina Zagat polled a cadre of friends in a food-and-wine club about their favorite dinner spots.
Tim Zagat
Tim Zagat Credit: Nancy Kaszerman

The couple typed up the results and gave out photocopies for free for a few years, eventually distributing thousands of copies. In order to recoup their costs -- and have a tax write-off -- they published their first "red book" in 1983.

As their list of favorites grew, so did the list of reviewers, which numbers 300,000 today. Since its founding, the company has released 54 guidebooks for restaurants, bars and nightclubs -- and has strayed a lot further from its original core competency to review hotels, resorts and spas, golf courses, music and movies. This year it released the "Walt Disney World Insiders' Guide."

Digital growth
Zagat expanded in 1999 with a $31 million investment by venture-capital groups led by General Atlantic Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. From there, Zagat Survey converted to online voting and expanded content on subscription-based Zagat.com. Content includes restaurant ratings and reviews, maps, driving directions, and access to "Zagat to Go" content for mobile devices.

The company also has relationships with some 3,000 corporations, including AOL, Chase, Citigroup and MasterCard International. For example, Coca-Cola Co. cross-promoted Diet Coke with Zagat in its 2005 lifestyle website called HotelYou. Set up like a hotel with rooms representing different lifestyles, the kitchen linked to Zagat ratings.

The current fast-food poll was conducted in conjunction with NBC's "Today."
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