Restaurant patrons in the United States have a number of ways to assess the quality of prospective dining places. One of the most well-known and widely used is the Zagat Survey, which rates restaurants in all major cities and many other regions on a 30 point scale based on votes by actual diners on such factors as food, ambience, and service. The Zagat system has proved particularly popular because its size allows it to sample a broad range of opinion about any given restaurant. A simple Internet search with the name of the locality and the word “restaurant” or a phrase like “Italian restaurant” will uncover any number of web sites that feature reviews and ratings by diners or professional reviewers, but few have the level of input of Zagat. Using a site with only one or two reviews of any given restaurant, it is often very difficult to make a decision.
The Michelin Guides series is well known for its restaurant ratings system and is in the process of entering the American market, starting in the country’s largest city, New York. The two most prominent travel guides that currently rate American restaurants are the Mobil Guides and the American Automobile Association, both of which use a scale of one to five: a three-star (or three-diamond) or better rating indicates a reliable place to eat. Like nearly all ratings and review systems, these guides also give diners a general description of the type of food and atmosphere they may expect at the restaurant, as well as the price range. Most travel guides, magazines, and books about specific regions give some kind of guidelines, certainly as to cuisine and cost, those these may ultimately be the opinions of a single individual.
Local and regional magazines and newspapers periodically publish “best bets” guides to local restaurants, with rating and reviews; these resource are almost always now available online. Though individual reviews can be subjective, a good professional reviewer knows how to tell the whole story and give readers the best level of information possible. If a restaurant is a good value but noisy, the reviewer will usually indicate the fact, allowing diners to decide for themselves whether the restaurant is appropriate.
A entirely different kind of restaurant rating system can be helpful to diners. City, county, and state health departments sometimes rate restaurants for cleanliness and compliance with sanitary standards by using a numerical rating system.