For the last decade, a once-familiar sight to a dedicated group of restaurant aficionados has undergone a series of strange permutations. The Zagat guide began in 1979, and gradually became ubiquitous in a number of metropolitan areas. With their distinctive size and their uniform look, the guidebooks offered an annual rundown of different cities’ restaurant scenes, structured around quotes from diners who’d been surveyed.
For some diners, the guide was an excellent way to find a new place to eat. (Full disclosure: I am the son of a longtime buyer of Zagat guides.) But the company has been through a lot of changes since 2011, when Google purchased it — and, eventually, stopped printing the physical guidebooks. Seven years later, Google sold Zagat to The Infatuation, which brought the printed guidebooks back. And now, Eater reports that The Infatuation itself has been purchased, this time by JPMorgan Chase.
As Eater’s Jaya Saxena points out, this dovetails with a larger industry trend of credit card companies making inroads into the world of restaurants and dining. (See also: American Express’s purchase of Resy.)
According to a StreetInsider article about the purchase, The Infatuation will remain an independent brand under its current CEO. As for what this means about the future of Zagat and its iconic guidebooks — which already took 2021 off due to the pandemic — the answer is uncertain. That demand existed for the books, even in an age of abundant online user reviews, points to the importance of, and audience for, a curated experience that exists somewhere between a critic’s review and that of an anonymous online profile. The last decade has offered a number of answers to the question of what Zagat guides represent now; the coming years may well bring more.
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