Relaunches With More Free Content Including Maps, Lists, Third-Party Reviews

Restaurant review company Zagat is best known for its print surveys that review and rank the best restaurants, bars and more in a particular city or region. But with the success of user-generated review site Yelp, Zagat has steadily been upgrading its online offerings, striking partnerships with Foursquare and Foodspotting and releasing mobile apps. For the most part, the company’s content has been behind a paywall, with in-depth reviews and features available exclusively to paying members. But today, Zagat is adding more free content to the site, including lists, third-party reviews and more.

Zagat is now allowing users to surface reviews in an easier way with enhanced search capabilities. New interactive maps allow diners to search by clicking on any neighborhood, drawing an area on a map, or indicating a popular landmark. Zagat has also compiled hundreds of lists of restaurants based on editor picks, and other topics, which users can access for free.

Zagat restaurant reviews now will also include new stats that show how each restaurant ranks in its cuisine category and in its neighborhood. Plus, Zagat reviews also include ratings and links to third-party reviews from other local and national sources.

With the updated site, Zagat is encouraging users to build up restaurant profiles with photos. Members can now upload photos of dishes and restaurants and view photos submitted by others. And Zagat has added a new metric, a simple “like,” to show users the percentage of diners in Zagat’s community that enjoyed a particular establishment.

Additionally, members’ quotes in reviews will now be recognized. Previously, Zagat restaurant reviews featured select anonymous quotes from reviewers. Now Zagat is revealing the people behind the “quotes” by linking to members’ profiles. And a new badge system rewards active members for being “First on the Scene,” a “Good Neighbor,” “Witty,” etc. Members can also achieve “Foodie Status” and be featured on Zagat’s homepage. And Zagat has redesigned its restaurant news and buzz blogs.

Zagat co-founder Nina Zagat said in the release announcing the new version of the site, “Zagat has always been a brand powered by people and passion. Having listened to our users, we’ve re-envisioned…We’ve greatly expanded our free content, Buzz dining blogs and innovative search tools as a result. The free content allows any user to get search results as potent as anywhere else on the web. We have an ambitious plan for the site’s future and will launch more exciting features in the coming months.”

Premium members still have access to Zagat’s full-fledged reviews, but now any user can surface more useful information about a restaurant or bar. For Zagat, this is a huge upgrade in terms of its digital offerings. In order to compete with sites like Yelp, the company had to not only free up content but also add more interactive elements (i.e. badges, photos) to encourage users to add content to the site.

But is it too little, too late for Zagat? In January, Yelp drew 26 million unique visitors in the U.S., according to comScore, whereas Zagat only saw 269,000 unique visitors in the same time period (according to a New York Times report, Zagat has roughly 1.2 million users worldwide). While Zagat Survey has a trusted name when it comes to quality restaurant reviews, Yelp, CitySearch, and even Google Places have long been offering free reviews and content to the public for some time now. Partnerships and more free content will certainly help Zagat draw traffic, but it’s unclear if reputation alone will help Zagat reach the mass scale that Yelp has been able to achieve.