October 6, 2010 / 4:24 AM / 9 years ago

Cash-strapped diners firing up home ranges: Zagat

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The shaky economy has taken a toll on New Yorkers’ love affair with dining out.

A sandwich is seen on a plate at a deli in New York December 17, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

They’re doing it less often, spending less when they do and are cooking at home more than ever, according to the 2011 Zagat dining survey released on Wednesday.

Respondents to the 32nd annual survey, which bases its ratings for some 2,100 metropolitan eateries on more than 41,000 diners’ individual reviews, said they were eating out about three times a week, down 10 percent from two years ago.

More than one-fourth said they were dining out less than just six months ago.

And despite a reputation for using their ovens as mini-storage units, New Yorkers said they were preparing meals at home 6.3 times a week — an increase of more than 3 percent from a year ago, and nearly 20 percent more often than in 2006.

“New Yorkers are feeling the lasting effects of the economic crisis, and we’re seeing some fundamental changes in their dining habits as a result,” said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey and its co-founder.

“Since 2008 we’ve noted a steep decline in the number of meals eaten out per week and an increase in the number of meals cooked at home,” Zagat added.

And for the first time since 2002 the average price of a meal out in New York dropped, if only by a few cents, to $41.76, but it is still cheaper than Tokyo, London, Paris and even Las Vegas, with Miami/South Florida not far behind.

Trends spotted by Zagat included praise for the dining scene in Brooklyn, where the top-rated restaurants could be found in several New York-identified categories such as deli, Chinese, pizza and steakhouse. Peter Lugar continued its reign as the city’s top steakhouse for the 27th consecutive year.

Diners gave the thumbs down to such increasingly common ‘while-dining’ activities as talking on cell phones, texting/tweeting and emailing, but did not mind the growing popularity of using phones to photograph food, as long as it was done in moderation.

New restaurants, as usual, outnumbered those that closed, but the survey found a preponderance of openings of sandwich, pizza, burger and chicken joints, in line with a marked trend toward more casual dining, and cheaper options.

Eric Ripert’s luxe seafood palace Le Bernardin was rated highest for food for the second consecutive year.

And while several spots shared the food-ratings cellar, once again it was celebrity clubhouse Elaine’s which scraped bottom with low marks for service and decor, and all for about twice the price of the other bottom finishers.

Reviewers slammed its “snobby service,” which helped to secure another last-place finish for the Upper East Side institution.

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