Zagat's back: how The Infatuation plans to market the resurrected restaurant guide

Zagat's New York City guide is back in print

The Infatuation is taking a flexible, 360 approach to marketing the legacy restaurant guidebook brand Zagat, which it acquired as a shortcut into both the established culinary scene and the world of user generated content.

Zagat released its 2020 New York City restaurant guide yesterday (12 November), marking both its 40th anniversary and return to print after a three year absence.

Google purchased the brand for $151m in 2011 and halted publication of the print edition in 2016 before offloading it to The Infatuation last year. The sale meant The Infatuation, a restaurant review site that had previously only existed online, has found itself with a physical product to shift for the first time.

It’s uncharted territory for Infatuation co-founders Chris Stang and Andrew Steinthal, who somewhat fell into the culinary game after careers in the music industry. Guardianship of Zagat also poses a unique challenge: keep the reverence for the hallowed brand alive while making its quantifiable, but rather unsexy, content appeal to diners too young to remember its first print run.

The solution has been to leave the book untouched and get creative with digital and marketing.

Zagat 2020 looks almost identical to the books that came before it, featuring a no-nonsense ranking system, a monochrome typeface and that famous maroon cover.

Choosing not to mess with the core brand has “opened up doors” with the press that The Infatuation couldn’t previously open, said Stang, the company’s chief executive. In certain markets, where levels of familiarity are still high, The Infatuation will plaster the Zagat name across billboards.

But the rest of the Zagat marketing plan will be experimental. Once the book is out, The Infatuation is taking a flexible approach to pushing the messaging, playing with lots of ideas but waiting to see how the brand is received under its new ownership before committing budget to anything solid.

“There are a lot of plans that we're still laying for both the go-to-market and beyond,” said Stang. “It was really such a culturally relevant brand and we need to think about how we do that again. It starts with putting it out there into the world and having people see and touch it and understand that it's there.”

Aside from getting people to buy the book, The Infatuation also needs to get people interacting with Zagat online. The means pushing them to create accounts and truthfully review restaurants in order for “the database of information to grow so it scales”.

Some spend will go towards driving online awareness around the digital online product, while a “robust” paid and organic social strategy is in place to further boost traffic to the site. The Infatuation itself will prove useful here: Stang and his team will use platforms such as its newsletter to direct its audience of more than 5 million over to the sister site.

Finally, The Infatuation will play its strongest card – content production – to push awareness around the Zagat brand, particularly to a younger audience unaware of what the book once stood for. First up is Zagat Stories, a video series slated for release in January that will tell tales of the book's chefs and restaurants.

It will also drive home the message that Zagat made it possible for "somebody who wasn't a professional restaurant critic ... to write restaurant reviews” for the first time.

“Telling that story – explaining why it exists and why it's different – is important, but there are a lot of things we're also going to be doing to make it culturally relevant again,” said Stang. “That means it will be important that the brand is appearing in places again that maybe it hasn't in a long time: integrating it into other parts of people's lifestyle and things they're interested in, like music and events.”

The co-founder imagines Zagat featuring at a major music festival, for instance, or an “experiential series”. Outside of performance and product marketing, Stang and his in-house team are happy to be as creative and experimental as possible to drive brand awareness, comfortable in the knowledge they grew The Infatuation out of nowhere with such an approach.

“The part we're challenging ourselves on is how creative can we get while we try to put this brand out into the world again,” he said. “I don't have all those answers yet, but I do know we're pretty good at creative marketing.”

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