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Dining out holds steady as prices rise: survey

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The economy may be shaky and markets might be tanking, but New Yorkers' dining out patterns show no signs of belt-tightening, according to a new poll.

The 2012 Zagat dining survey released on Wednesday showed New Yorkers eat out an average of three times a week, despite tabs that have risen four percent since last year -- the largest increase since 2006.

In another sign that the industry is thriving, Zagat noted that so-called "noteworthy" restaurant openings outpaced closings by more than a two-to-one margin, the highest difference since 2007, the year before the financial crisis took hold.

"The new survey shows that the city's restaurant industry has stabilized and may be turning upward," said Tim Zagat, co-founder of Zagat, which polls consumers and compiles reviews about restaurants, hotels and shopping around the world.

Star chefs and restaurateurs also seem to be banking on the future. Mario Batali, David Bouley, Tom Colicchio, Todd English, Daniel Boulud, Danny Meyer and many others opened new establishments in the past year, according to Zagat.

The results of the survey, which bases its ratings for some 2,100 restaurants on more than 41,000 diners' reviews, stood in contrast to just one year ago when diners reported they were eating out less, spending less when they did and cooking at home more than ever.

It also revealed the end a steep decline in the number of meals eaten out per week that took hold in 2008.

The average price of a meal out in New York rose more than four percent to $43.46 but the increase was even higher, 5.5 percent, for the city's 20 top-priced restaurants.

But it was still lower than the average tab in Las Vegas, which was $47.53, the nation's highest.

Zagat also noted an increase in southern cuisine, and on-site gardens where chefs can forage for ultra-fresh ingredients. Food trucks were also on the rise.

Diners gave the thumbs down to such coupon discount providers such as Groupon, with more than two-thirds rarely or never using them. And nearly two-thirds frowned upon texting, tweeting or talking on cell phones while dining.

Eric Ripert's seafood palace Le Bernardin was rated highest for food for the third consecutive year, while the top decor prize went to Asian fusion restaurant Asiate and Per Se took the honors for best service.

Rolf's, a German restaurant, placed last in the food ratings, with reviewers describing its food as "so-so" and its service as "mediocre."

Last month, Google Inc. bought the 32-year-old Zagat, bolstering its push into the rapidly growing local commerce market.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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