Google apparently wants out of the restaurant review game: It’s looking to sell off Zagat, Reuters reports.
Google purchased the restaurant guidebook company back in 2011 for $151 million. It had ambitious plans for the brand. “Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering,” then-Google VP Marissa Mayer wrote in her announcement post, calling Zagat “a world-class team that has more experience in consumer based-surveys, recommendations, and reviews than anyone else in the industry.”
At the time, Yelp dominated the online restaurant review game, and Google wanted a piece of that business. Since at least 2009, Yelp and Google have traded jabs in a very public tech world rivalry. Analysts supposed, at the time, that buying Zagat was a way for Google to show it didn’t need Yelp or its data.
But rather than build up the Zagat name, Google mined the restaurant reviews business for its content. Zagat rates restaurants on a 30-point scale factoring in food, service, atmosphere, and price. Each restaurant gets a blurb that is compiled of snippets from those surveyed, resulting in awkward paragraphs like one for NYC’s Le Bernardin, which reads, in part: “for a ‘dream-come-true’ meal, this is ‘as good as it gets.’”
By 2015, after the search giant had successfully folded Zagat’s restaurant ratings and recommendations data into its search and maps programs — and partnered with OpenTable to offer reservations — it stripped away Zagat’s branding. Though Zagat.com still publishes lists and restaurant news, as the Verge notes, Google allowed the once-ubiquitous guidebook company’s name to fade into the background.
More recently, Google maps and search have been redesigned to emphasize automated data, such as tracking when restaurants are at their most crowded and estimating wait times. Reviews and ratings fall far below other, more service-oriented information on restaurant location pages.
Zagat was founded in 1979 by Tim and Nina Zagat; it started out as a crowd-sourced survey of New York City restaurants that the Zagats compiled by polling their friends. For a time, it was seen as more reliable than traditional restaurant reviews because it complied a cross-section of anonymous opinions from everyday diners. It eventually grew into a restaurant guidebook company that published guides in over 100 countries. The company redesigned its website in 2013 to focus on just 30 cities.
According to Reuters, “Any deal would likely involve the Zagat brand name and website.” Google has declined to comment on a possible sale.