Zagat is a company much older than Google and older than many Google employees, but now it's also owned by Google. Zagat was started in 1979 by Tim and Nina Zagat as a survey of restaurants in New York.
The company was originally a hobby to provide more reliable restaurant reviews than the local paper. They were at a party where everyone complained about how unreliable the local restaurant reviews were, and an idea was formed. Originally the Zagats polled their friends. They expanded their polls to 200 people and printed the results on legal paper. The surveys became an instant hit, and a serious business grew out of the hobby.
Zagat's most famous product is their printed restaurant guides. The Zagat guides began in New York but now cover over 100 countries. Having a favorable listing in a Zagat guide can make a big difference for higher end restaurants. Zagat surveys restaurant patrons and then compiles the publication. Each restaurant is given a 30 point rating system with factors like service, price, decor, and food. Restaurants are also included in indices and lists, so users can find quick picks for the best restaurant in a certain price range or featuring a certain cuisine.
Zagat also makes some money from custom guides for special occasions, such as conventions or weddings.
Zagat Website and Community
Over the years, Zagat has tried to react to the transition from a paper dominated society to an electronic one. They established a website with community forums, a blog, editorial articles on restaurants to registered users. The website also offers game-style badges, user surveys, deals and events, and other perks for membership and incentives to participate in the valuable surveys that make up the heart of Zagat's rating system. Google's acquisition opened up membership to anyone with a Google+ account.
One of the best features of the website is the ability to make your own custom lists and indices or follow those created by other users.
In addition to the website, blog, and editorial content, Zagat launched mobile apps for most major smartphone platforms.
Zagat Is a Lot Like Yelp
I know you were thinking it, and you're absolutely right. Zagat is a lot like a slightly higher end version of Yelp. You might actually say that Yelp is a lot like what Zagat would be without the longer history and backbone of published guides. Originally Google had tried to negotiate an acquisition deal with Yelp, but that fell through. Google opted to buy Zagat instead. The deal closed in 2011.
Zagat and Google+
Why would Google want to buy a restaurant survey and rating system like Zagat? Google's aim here is to beef up local results. By buying an established rating system, they not only gain the data, they gain the engineers that created that system. Google can benefit from the experience of developers who have been making relevant local search experiences.
Google took their experience and started folding it into Google+. If you log into your Google+ account, you'll see a section on the left side marked Local. Click on this, and you'll enter in local search. You can find restaurants or other local destinations near a location by typing in a city or area in the upper right search box. Use the upper left box to narrow your results for certain types, styles, or other categories.
Zagat reviews only appear on the restaurant results, but it's possible Google will use Zagat's survey methodology to include ratings for other items in the future.