DETROIT (WWJ) – At the end of October, Zagat released its 2012 America’s Top Restaurants Survey, covering 1,578 of the nation’s top restaurants across 45 major markets.

The new guide incorporates the votes of over 156,000 food lovers who dined out an estimated 25 million times in the past year.

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As far as Detroit is concerned, Zagat said the city’s top restaurant is The Lark. Located in West Bloomfield, The Lark offers a quiet, peaceful setting overlooking a walled garden with a fountain, outdoor grill and grape trellis. The cuisine is eclectic and distinctive, created with French cooking techniques.

According to the survey, 75 percent of respondents said they are in favor of Detroit restaurants posting health department letter grades in the window. Moreover, a majority of diners in major cities report that letter grades influence their dining decisions and most will eat only at restaurants that earn a B or better.

The national average of meals out per week held steady at 3.1 – the same as last year, but still down from 3.3 pre-recession. Texans eat out the most, with Houston (4.0), Austin (3.8), Dallas/Ft. Worth (3.6) and San Antonio (3.5) leading the national pack, while diners who eat out the least hail from the east coast, e.g. Washington, DC/Baltimore (2.6), Philadelphia (2.5) and Boston (2.5).

This year, 27 percent of diners report spending more per meal compared to a year ago, while 14 percent report spending less. On average, U.S. diners are spending $35.65 per meal, a slight increase from last year’s average of $35.37. This represents the lowest annual inflation in five years. The average annual inflation in meal costs over the past 10 years has been 2.9 percent; since the recession, the average inflation has dropped to 1.4 percent.

The most expensive dining in the nation is in Las Vegas, with an average meal cost of $47.53. Looking at the twenty most expensive restaurants in each city, NYC leads with an average cost of $163.34. The most affordable dining can be found in New Orleans at $28.36. Coincidentally, New Orleans diners are the nation’s best tippers, leaving an average of 19.7 percent — versus the national average of 19.2 percent. West Coast diners (San Francisco, Seattle, Hawaii, LA, Sacramento and San Diego) remain the least generous tippers at 18.6 to 18.9 percent.

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While service again tops the list of dining-out irritants (cited by 66 percent), the survey shows a rise in complaints about noise/crowds, which is now at 16 percent, up from 12 percent five years ago. When asked what they would do if seated next to noisy neighbors, 54 percent of diners surveyed would ignore them, 32 percent say they would ask to be moved and 10 percent would ask the manager to speak to them. Only a bold 4 percent would confront their neighbors and ask them to quiet down.

While 36 percent of diners said they avoid communal tables, an equal 35 percent said they love meeting new people and would chat with their neighbors, 19 percent said they would only chat with their neighbors if they overheard something interesting and 10 percent would “pretend there was an invisible wall.”

Surveyors are split in their opinions of celebrity chefs – 40 percent say a famous chef makes them more likely to dine at a restaurant, while 57 percent say that has no effect.

Although French and Japanese claim the top food spot in more than one-third of the 45 markets covered in the Survey, Italian is the most popular cuisine, with 27 percent of respondents nationwide citing it as their favorite, followed by American (18 percent), French (12 percent), Japanese (10 percent) and Mexican (10 percent).

When dining at a restaurant that does not take reservations, a full 67 percent of surveyors nationwide would be willing to wait no more than 30 minutes for a table, while 12 percent said no more than an hour. Regarding restaurants with “cash-only” policies, 40 percent of diners avoid them while 12 percent say it makes them spend or tip less. And despite the proliferation of group buying sites, 56 percent of say they rarely/never engage in these programs.

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For more survey results, visit