Founded in 1979 by Tim and Tina Zagat (two Yale law grads), the Zagat Survey has become one of the City's best-selling (and highly regarded) restaurant guides. Featuring anonymous reviews supplied by patrons of some 2000 establishments, the publication utilizes a 30-point rating scale to rank restaurants on such categories as food, decor, service, and cost.
Known for its cross-dressing wait staff, Lucky Cheng's Restaurant offers it customers Asian-fusion and Polynesian cuisine. Miffed by an unfavorable review it received in the Zagat Survey's 2004 edition, the restaurant's owner filed suit in the New York County Supreme Court alleging defamation, trade libel and negligence. On motion in Themed Rests., Inc. v. Zagat Survey, LLC, the Supreme Court dismissed the eatery's case. On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed, characterizing the dispute as follows:
The complained-of restaurant review appearing in the 2004 edition of defendant's Zagat Survey of New York City Restaurants does not furnish an actionable basis for a defamation or trade libel claim. The Zagat Survey features reviews compiled from surveys submitted to Zagat from members of the public. Plaintiff restaurant, as described by its owner, is a theme restaurant with a drag queen cabaret, where female impersonators are both waiters and performers, and customer participation contributes to the entertainment. The Zagat Survey rated plaintiff restaurant at "9" or "fair" for food, and "15" or "good" for both decor and service. The review further contained the allegedly libelous statements that "God knows 'you don't go for the food,'" and "weary well-wishers suggest that they 'freshen up the menu and their makeup.'" These quotes were taken from comments made by the consumer participants in the Zagat Survey.
Since restaurant ratings, even when anonymous, are constitutionally protected forms of "expressions of opinions," the appellate court determined that the restaurant's claims were illusory.
What a drag!
For a copy of the Appellate Term's decision in Themed Rests., Inc. v. Zagat Survey, LLC, please click on the following link: