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Hard Times for Restaurants Good Times for Diners

(NEW YORK, NY) Oct. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- The results of Zagat's 2010 America's Top Restaurants survey were released online today. ZAGAT.com covers thousands of eateries across 45 U.S. markets. In the survey, over 145,000 diners shared their opinions about dining, especially on how the past year's economy affected the restaurant industry.

Hard Times: This year, the national percentage of meals eaten out or taken out declined from 50% to 48%, and the national average of restaurant meals per week dropped from 3.3 to 3.2. To save money, 10% go to expensive places for lunch in lieu of dinner, and 7% are simply less likely to try new places. A stolid 26% say the economy has had no affect on their dining habits.

Good Times: In spite of the year's economic woes, surveyors are finding some reasons to smile. Overall, there were more good new restaurant openings than closings. Over the past year, 54% of surveyors nationwide say they are finding better deals at restaurants and 40% feel their patronage is more appreciated. In a nod to their health, another 20% say they are eating healthier.

"There's no doubt that the recession has seriously affected diners' habits across America," said Tim Zagat, CEO and Co-Founder of Zagat Survey. "Yet all our surveys highlight how the industry is adapting to the needs of the diners, offering better value, service and bargains for the wallet-weary. It may take time, but we are convinced that the industry will weather the storm and emerge stronger."

Bargain Hunting: This year, many premier chefs are launching bargain spinoffs. In addition to the many recession-friendly openings this year, prix-fixe menus and extended Restaurant Week deals have allowed diners to enjoy fine dining affordably.

Economics: The national average meal cost this year is $34.62, up 1.2% from last year's $34.21. Among the most expensive restaurants, the average cost has gone up only 0.49%, from $76 to $76.37.

Cuisines: Surveyors say Italian is their favorite cuisine, with 27% of the nationwide vote. American food came in second with 16% of the votes, followed by Japanese and French (11% each), Mexican (10%) and Thai (8%). Not only is Italian the favorite, but it's also among the best; an Italian restaurant appears in the Top 5 food rankings in over 50% of the markets covered in this guide. Also, Italian food is eaten more often than any other national cuisine, with variations of American coming in second.

To Your Health: Green dining has been on diners' radars for some time now, but even in the poor economy, 61% of surveyors around the country are willing to pay more for "green" products and menu items, up about 5% from last year. When it comes to their health, 69% consider low-carb, low-fat, heart-healthy menu items to be important, while 65% say trans fats should be banned from restaurants.

For information about the survey and to find additional statistics, please visit http://www.zagat.com/presscenter.