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Drag Queen Eatery Sues Zagat for Rating

December 24, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ The owners of Lucky Cheng’s, a cabaret-restaurant with cross-dressing male waiters and entertainers, have filed a $10 million lawsuit accusing the Zagat Survey of libel for giving the restaurant a low rating for its food.

The suit said Lucky Cheng’s has lost about $30,000 a week since Oct. 14, 2003, when the 2004 Zagat guide was published with the low food rating _ 9 out of a possible 30.

The guide publishes restaurant reviews based almost entirely on ratings provided by patrons, which are compiled to assign scores denoting the quality of the food, decor and service.

Besides the 9 for food, an accompanying diner-contributor summary of Lucky Cheng’s reads, ``God knows ‘you don’t go for the food’ at this East Village-Asian Eclectic. Rather you go to ‘gawk’ at the ‘hilarious cross-dressing’ staff who ‘tell dirty jokes,’ perform ‘impromptu floor shows’ and ’offer lap dances for dessert.‴

Few restaurants in the survey have food quality ratings lower than 10. Some of the city’s fine dining temples, like Lutece and The Four Seasons, have ratings around 26 or 27.

The lawsuit notes that before a rating of 8 for the 2003 guide, Lucky Cheng’s consistently received a score of 13 for food quality. The restaurant’s owners claim the food quality has rebounded and argue the guide should have checked the low food score to make sure it was accurate.

Alexa Rudin, director of communications for the Zagat Survey, said, ``We are confident of our review of Lucky Cheng’s, and we stand by it.″

``This is not one person’s opinion,″ Rudin said. ``This is the collective opinions of the contributors.″

Rudin said the Zagat survey had been sued three other times that she knew of. Two of the cases were dismissed and one is pending, she said.

The restaurant’s lawyer, Ravi Ivan Sharma, said his client is suing Zagat for libel and negligence. He said the guides are edited and published with no proof the statements in them are correct.

Told that Rudin said Zagat uses 25 safeguards to protect the survey’s methodology, Sharma responded, ``We’d like to know what they are.″

Besides $10 million in damages, the restaurant is suing Zagat for $30,000 a week for alleged lost business since Oct. 14, 2003, and $250,000 for loss of reputation and goodwill because of the reviews.

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