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Has it really been a year? What an action packed festivus of food it’s been.  Ann Arbor is a city on the grow. It’s genuinely thrilling to reflect on all of the food-born excitement from 2011. We added new restaurants, new shops, new farms, Mark’s Carts, Wednesday night Farmer’s Market….the list goes on.  And based on the rumors I’ve heard in the last two weeks 2012 is already shaping up to be another stunning year.

As some of you know, A2GastroBoy was born in the late fall of 2010 while doing some development research.  We had created a survey to gain insights on Ann Arbor diners and gauge the cities appetite for a new concept. A2GastroBoy.com was initially built for the sole purpose of publishing the survey results. Since that time our humble little site and subsequent social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, Fourquare, Food Spotting, iTapped) has grown into a thoroughly gratifying dialogue about food at large and dining in the Washtenaw County Foodplain.  I’m blown away by the sustained traffic and commenting A2GastroBoy generates.

Almost from go, the survey was conceived as an annual ritual, a longitudinal study for monitoring changes in the gastronomic landscape. To that end, I’ve been working behind the scene for the last few months to finalizing the second installment.

And the winner is…

Hold your applause. Before we dive into the results we need to run down some of the survey basics.

1)  Survey Participants: This is a non-scientific study. While we do have a method to our madness, there is very little formal screening conducted on respondents. Participants were solicited from a series of local e-mail lists and word-of-mouth. We do not control the number of haters or mouth-breathing sheep that found the link. Based on the results I have surmised a few subtle shifts in demographics from the first survey. In either case, we’re very pleased with the sample.

2)  The results are entirely useless. As I’m fond of saying, a good analyst can make the numbers say anything. Yes, the results are based on real data, but what you’ll see here is my presentation of the outcome, chock-full of personal bias and opinions.  If you don’t like the story, suck it. Build your own survey. If you love it, I’m available for consulting at a ridiculously high hourly rate.

3)   Inclusion: Each year I field questions about how we arrived at the list of restaurants. There were 59 included in the latest survey. The basis is this…each establishment must be open for dinner, possess a liquor license and reside within reasonable driving distance from downtown Ann Arbor. From that point we add and subtract specific establishments to maintain an entirely subjective sampling of the local dining landscape. 

NEW ADDITIONS: This year we added seven restaurants to the list, 5 were newly opened (or re-opened) and two were added for diversity or sheer curiosity.

  • Class of 2011: Aubree’s, Frita, Mani, Raven’s Club, Roger Monks, Seva, Tio’s

RETIRED LIST: We also said goodbye to five restaurants because they closed or were rendered irrelevant.

  • In memorial: eve, Lord Fox (now Roger Monks), Michael’s Chop House (at the Sheraton), Northpoint (now Aubree’s), Victor’s (At the Campus Inn)

One last logistical preface…The survey was designed to shed light on two facets, behavior and preference – or in layman’s terms, “what’dya do and what’dya like.” There are six basic questions and one long exhaustive rating exercise.  Clean and simple. What in NOT simple, is interpreting the results. Here’s my stab at it.



Whenever you review data you have to consider the source. Perhaps the largest insight I take away is the difference is audience from 2010 to 2011. In 2010 A2GastroBoy had not yet launched so the survey was almost entirely completed by my contemporaries, parents with school aged children. The second time around the survey represents readers. While I did not gather data on age, I would almost guarantee my readers skew younger, with less being parents.  

Attendance & Restaurant Reference Set

Here’s another important guiding insight. Through the glory of data I was able to deduct where folks have and have not dined. That single attribute speaks volumes about our scene.

Most Visited:  It’s fairly intuitive – casual dining - but interesting to it see play out. Note what’s not listed – chain restaurants, save for Mongolian BBQ. It's also curious that half the list is compirsed of establishments founded on beer.

  • Head Scratcher: Mongolian BBQ, really? Is that because we've all been forced to go to a group or department event - or do some people go there on their own free will?  I pray for you all.

Least Visited: Clearly our readers don’t venture beyond downtown. None of the Dexter-Chelsea restaurants have been highly visited.

  • Head Scratcher: Miki? Hmmm. I guess it makes sense. While it was the original sushi go-to in Ann Arbor, it’s been left behind in the proliferation of newer sushi options.



Now let’s review the specific answers in detail.


Q2. Excluding lunch while you’re working, how frequently do you dine out? 


A2GastroBoy NotesCheck this out. 70% of A2GsatroBoy survey respondents dine out at least once a week. 34% report dining out more than once per week. Do we know restaurants or what? Also, don't assume we're dined out more in 2011 vs. 2010. I think the change in frequency is more representative of the different survey participants.  

Q3. Again, excluding lunch while you're at work, how much do you normally spend when dining out?


A2GasstroBoy Notes: This is pretty consistent. Looks like $30 is the breaking point. 85% of our readers spend 25 or less.  Who's the 2% that spent an average of over $50? I'd like to participate in your bar tab.  


Q4. What factors most often determine your choice of restaurants (pick the two most frequent)


A2GasstroBoy Notes: OK, time for a confession – this question was a shill. I would have been shocked if “Food / Menu Quality” was NOT the # 1 item. The trick was in forcing folks to pick two items. The secondary preferences will start filling in the story. Remember this in question 6.  Note how "Kid Friendly" was so important in 2010 and fell off the map in 2011. Again, evidence of a different demographic in the second round.


Q5. When you think back on your dining experiences during the last year, what was the purpose for those outings (pick the two most frequent)


A2GasstroBoy Notes: Nothing shocking, but again, notice how family was replace with friends. 


Q6. When choosing between two restaurants with similar menus, quality and prices, the winning choice would most often hinge on the restaurant that offers... (pick just one)


A2GasstroBoy NotesThis is my favorite question - for many reasons. First of all, consider this - the #1 rated differentiating attribute for my readers si locally sourced ingredients. That rocks. Not only is it intrinsically wonderful, it also means hipsters read my blog! Real live DamnArbor reading hipsters. Can you imagine Meg Goes Nom Nom readers passing Kroger to buy their produce at Arbor Farms (no offense Meg)? Bless you my people.

The second thrilling point is the resulting importance of Decor and Atmosphere. It matters! The data substantiates my rants on how much the visual world impacts our world. Life is too short to endure ugly - even if the entre is to die for. Be warned restaurateurs - if you don't make the room visually appealing, no level of cheffery will make up for the damage.


Q7: The Overall Ratings

Here’s the money shot. What’s the best restaurant in Ann Arbor? Good question. We asked readers to rate each restaurant individually. Then we compared that rating to the percentage of folks who have actually dined there. It's an interesting exercise. So who won? What's the best restaurant in Ann Arbor?

Statistically speaking, Mani Osteria received the highest ratings, 87.2% positive. But 47% of the same survey respondents answered "Don't Know / Never Been." Now consider Zingerman's Roadhouse. It has a dramatically larger pool of diners. 89% of A2GastroBoy readers have eaten there. Their approval rating was 82.3%. Whish restaurant ultimately fairs better? It will be interesting to see if Mani's ratings remain high as more diners visit. To be clear, I LOVE both.

Frankly, I LOVE every restaurant on the list. I couldn't be more proud of the results. That said, I don't believe in ties. There must be a winner. I hereby name Mani Osteria the 2012 A2GastroBoy Restaurant of the year. In the coming weeks I will compile the last nine months of dining notes to help educate the 47% of you who are Mani Virgins.

 And what’s the worst restaurant in town? That’s easy - any chain. Remember how Mongolian BBQ was on the list of top 10 visited restaurants? Well check out the liking score. Less that 10% of Diners at Mongolian rate it favorably. Applebees and Chilis share the honor of lowest liking score. Only 2% of respondents rated them favorably. Don't you love statistics?




OK - Here's one last bit of fun before we part screens. Have you heard of foursquare (the geo-based social media app, not the playground game)? If you have, you know how trivially important it is to achieve “Mayor” status. As I was preparing this post I decided to investigate the Mayors at each of the top 10 rated restaurants. See if you can match the Mayor to the correct dining establishment. Yes, Jessica S. REALLY is the Mayor at three of our top ten restaurants. Aren't you jealous?


PS: If you made it this far you read the entire post - congratulation! Now take the next step and click the comment button below. Tell what what you thought - or give me a scathing flame of a tounge lashing - or cut and paste a witting joke. All are acceptable. Just know that I thrive on feedack. Tommy can you hear me? 


Reader Comments (6)

Huzzah. You should learn R so you can make prettier graphs for next year's survey.

January 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBen Connor Barrie

This was a fun read! (Ok, I'll admit I find analyzing statistics hot!) Love the breakdown/comparison of percentage visitied/approval rating, I think thats the most striking one for me as a consumer.

January 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTessie

I know the mayors of 4 of the top 10. I need to get the f out of this town.

February 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike D

First, thanks for the survey. Last years survey made me try cafe zola and I was happy I did.

But.....maybe you could break the winners down by price? Most of the top ten are the most expensive places in town. What are the top ten under $20?

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Dohm

Joe - Good thought. I'll look at cutting the data. I've also been asked to look at restaurants w/o booze, which will dramtatically expand the lower price options. THanks for your feedback.

March 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterA2GastroBoy

Why no Earthen Jar? Or Jerusalem Garden? Or Aut Bar? And you had Frasers (where no one in their right mind would eat) but not Banfields- which.. also has bad food but not as bad as Frasers...

Thanks for noting that decor matters! Particularly lighting. If you sit down in a restaurant and you feel out of sorts, chances are it's the bad lighting.


November 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertimjbd

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