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Diners Love Local, Hate Texting

From Bret Thorn, Nation's Restaurant News: New Orleans diners tip the best, Hawaiians the worst, diners think that texting at the table is rude and that food should be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised.

Those were among the findings of Zagat's survey of 153,000 diners as it compiled its 2011 America’s Top Restaurants guide, which was released Wednesday.

Sixty-eight percent of participants in the survey said they thought it was important for the food they eat to be locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised, and 60 percent said they would even pay more for such food. Nearly a third, 31 percent, said they sought out restaurants specializing in such “green” cuisine.

Most diners — 85 percent — said it was fine to take pictures of food and each other at restaurants, but 63 percent said texting, tweeting and talking on cell phones was rude and inappropriate.

Diners are eating out a little less than before the recession — 3.1 times per week, compared with 3.3 percent. Thirty-nine percent said they are paying more attention to price, 33 percent said they’re eating in less expensive places, 17 percent said they were cutting back on alcohol, and 21 percent said they were ordering fewer appetizers and desserts.

Still, the national average price of a meal rose 2.2 percent in the past year to $35.37. New Orleans, where the average tip is 19.7 percent, has the lowest average meal cost among Zagat survey participants — of $28.36.

Right behind New Orleans diners in tipping are Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Ohio, where tippers leave an average gratuity of 19.6 percent

On the low end, Hawaiians tip 18.4 percent on average, and diners in Sacramento and San Francisco tip an average of 18.6 percent.

Las Vegas is the most expensive city to eat in, with an average meal price of $44.44.

As is usual in the Zagat survey, diners’ biggest complaint was poor service, although in the most recent survey just 67 percent said service was the most irritating thing about eating in restaurants, down from 72 percent in 2006. Picking up the slack in top complaints are noise and crowds, which are the pet peeves of 14 percent of diners, up from 12 percent in 2006. Complaints about price and food quality also rose from 5 percent to 7 percent.

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