Google-owned Zagat app finally gets a makeover, becomes useful again

Zagat, the restaurant review service Google acquired in 2011, has finally been given a mobile makeover today following years of what have been only minor updates and bug fix releases. Launching first on iOS, the updated Zagat app features a refreshed logo and new look-and-feel, as well as features that tailor the app to the individual user.

Before today’s refresh, the app had a massively outdated user interface that made it seem like a holdover from an earlier era on mobile. Effectively, it seemed like the Zagat app had been abandoned following Google’s acquisition, which was primarily focused on beefing up Google’s own local reviews with Zagat’s data.

The company first used Zagat to overhaul its Google+ Local efforts at a time when it was hoping to turn Google+ into a Facebook competitor where business owners would claim and operate their own pages.

The company had also come under fire for the way it had botched its handling of Zagat post-acquisition, with an older iteration of the app that presented dining stories over helping people actually figure out where to eat right now.

But as Google+ stagnated, the company moved away from further Zagat integrations, and instead focused on gathering its own restaurant data from crowdsourced reviews via its Local Guides program, and more recently, a wider group of Maps users. This has allowed it to update its Google restaurant listings product with an expanded set of information beyond business hours and other facts to include more nuanced details like a restaurant’s ambience, specialized menu options, whether it’s family friendly, and more

Now, it seems Google is giving Zagat a second look.

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Explains the company, the new Zagat app will make recommendations based on where you’re currently located and the time of day. For example, if it’s almost lunch time, you can just push a button to find a place that’s open for lunch nearby.

Thanks to its revamped interface, this “find nearby” function is a lot more useful. With a single tap, you’re shown the best Zagat-rated restaurants near you.

You can also toggle this switch off to see all restaurants, as well as tap on buttons to narrow by type of eatery (bakery, deli, American, brunch, etc.) or click a “Filter” button to narrow search results even further. Filtering lets you really drill down into options like price range, food score, decor score, service score, whether it accepts online reservations, open hours, and more.

You can also choose how restaurants are sorted – best match, Google rating, Zagat food score, distance, or pricing. And you can filter by new places, in case you’re looking to branch out from your old favorites.

By default, restaurants are presented in list view, but you can toggle over to a maps view instead to see pins with their accompanying Zagat rating on a map.

In addition to finding nearby restaurants, the app’s homescreen can direct you to other recommended lists – like quick bites nearby, best Italian in your city, or best wine lists, for example. Below these, a “Top Zagat Picks Near You” will point you to some of the best restaurants to try.

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With the newly added navigation buttons at the bottom of the app, you can also switch over into other sections, like Search (where you can now tap on buttons per cuisine type or search by Neighborhood); “City’s Best” (a list of the best places that’s available in select major metros); and a “Saved” section where you can make your own lists of places you want to visit.

Google has also changed the way Zagat’s ratings are being presented, it notes. While it continues to collect separate ratings for Food, Decor and Service, it has now simplified these figures in an easier to understand 5-point scale. (Zagat, of course, was known for its iconic 30-point rating system. 5 points brings Zagat more in line with competing services, including Google’s own biz ratings.)

Overall, the changes make Zagat a fairly useful restaurant finding application again, and one that does a better job at actually finding the better places to dine in town than Google Maps.

However, given that Google had abandoned the app for so long, it may be hard for the company to get users – who have since moved on to Yelp, Foursquare, and others –  to return.

Zagat is available for free on iTunes.