No Local Server?

Good news: The democratic Zagat restaurant guide has finally gone high-tech with its own Web site at On the new Web site, which launched May 11, you can vote for your favorite restaurants, purchase Zagat merchandise or use its powerful search engine to comb listings for 17,000 restaurants in 20 cities.

Even better, travelers no longer need to pack one of those little burgundy-jacketed books for each city they visit. Road warriors stuck in downtown Baltimore craving a late-night slice of cheesecake, for example, can enter their criteria and unearth the Cheesecake Factory on Calvert Street. A couple more clicks of the mouse will reveal a map and driving directions.

On-line shop-a-holics can buy Zagat guidebooks, maps and software, or deck themselves in T-shirts, caps and tote bags emblazoned with the burgundy-and-white Zagat logo. Everything in the store is currently 25 percent off, in honor of the dining guide's 20th anniversary.

You can even learn to correctly pronounce "Zagat": It rhymes with "the cat," advises the home page. That should settle a few arguments.

So what's the bad news? Though you can interactively check out such dubious dining destinations as Connecticut, New Jersey, Orlando or even southern New York State, Houston isn't included in the on-line ratings. (If it's any consolation, neither are Dallas, Austin, San Antonio or anything else in Texas.)

"It was purely a logistical issue, I promise," explains Jessie Soodalter, head of digital development for Zagat. "As our dining guides are updated, we're converting them into the new database format we need to put them on-line. Those 20 cities just happened to be the ones that were ready first."

Apparently hundreds of irate Texas diners already have e-mailed Zagat, asking where in the heck are our city guides? "We've had a tremendous response from Houston, asking that we include you guys, and we really appreciate that," notes Soodalter soothingly. "Don't worry, we're going to get Houston, Dallas and Seattle on-line in the very next batch. Houston should be available within a month or so." In the next four months, at least 25 additional U.S. cities will be converted to the on-line format.

Meanwhile, Houston diners who surf will have to content themselves with buying the hard-copy version of the '99 Zagat dining guide (discounted to $7.96 each) from the Web site, or voting on the Diner's Bill of Rights, Zagat's proposed platform of restaurant-going standards.

"In the 20 years we have been doing these surveys, there has been one constant: Service is the category in which restaurants consistently score lowest marks and in which restaurants receive the most criticism," says co-publisher Tim Zagat. "Improving service should be the most important single goal of the restaurant industry." The "inalienable rights" of diners, according to Tim and wife Nina Zagat, include the right to be seated within ten minutes of your reservation; clean, sanitary facilities and fresh, healthful food; the right to smoke-free and cellular phone-free seating, and even the right to bring your own wine to the table (subject to a reasonable corkage fee, of course). Web site visitors, whether diners or restaurateurs, are encouraged to add their own "pithy comments" or draft new planks for the Bill.

Membership at is free, at least until September 1, 1999. "We're still working out the details of how paid subscriptions might work," admits Soodalter.

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