Mobile apps have become indispensable these days, and mobile tools for dining out and general food topics abound. From finding a restaurant and deciding what to order, to telling others about your experience, here is a brief list of our favorites, presented in no particular order:
Zagat. The folks at Zagat have been compiling witty, pithy user reviews of restaurants for over thirty years – long before widespread use of the internet popularized them. Like the the famous Zagat Guides, the mobile application allows diners to submit and read reviews, and search for restaurants by name, cuisine, neighborhood, and Zagat rating. Social media gurus can link their Foursquare check ins directly to the app to be added to a “journal” list of reviews to submit later. $9.99. Available for iPhone/iPad, Android, and Blackberry.
Sprinkles. Love cupcakes? These days, you’re not alone. Cupcakes have gone upmarket, and are making a comeback as big as bacon. Beverly Hills-based Sprinkles cupcake boutiques are cropping up all over the country, and their mobile app speaks to the volumes of well-connected epicurean savants that make up their primary target market. Sprinkles gives away free cupcakes at each store every day to to a predetermined number of customers who whisper the word of the day, which is sent directly to the app, and also broadcast on Twitter. Diners can also check Sprinkles locations and hours, gift virtual cupcakes, and check which of their favorite cupcakes are available that day (some are available only on specific days of the week, other specials vary by season). Free. Available for iPhone and Android.
Seafood Watch. Is that salmon on the menu farmed or wild caught? Is it sustainable? What about the monkfish? Monterey Bay Aquarium has long published a pocket guide for diners and grocery shoppers that helps them ensure they’re only buying seafood that is harvested or farmed sustainably. Replacing the paper pocket guide, the app allows for up-to-the-minute updates (populations are constantly monitored and new information is pushed to the app as soon as it becomes available) using the same easy Best Choice/Good Alternative/Avoid matrix, and tailors recommendations based on the diner’s geographic location. Diners can search for the seafood by the common name or the Japanese name if they’re enjoying sushi. Be prepared to quiz your servers and fishmongers however (unless you’re shopping at Whole Foods, which displays MSC ratings on the case), as in some cases the information is very specific, down to the method of catch (although the app also typically indicates what is common for each species and region). Free. Available for iPhone and Android.
Open Table. Open Table is exactly what it sounds like: it finds an open table at a restaurant near you, and reserves it. Diners can search based on their GPS location, select other cities, or search for their favorite restaurant by name. Once an open table is found, it can be reserved using the app, and an e-mail confirmation is sent directly to the diner. Information pages include price point, contact details, and previous diner reviews. Diners also earn points toward dining certificates by fulfilling a set number of reservations. A great tool to avoid long waits on busy evenings. Free. Available for iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, Android, Windows Phone, and webOS.
Urbanspoon. We’ve all seen the iPhone ads featuring Urbanspoon. For those “can’t decide where/feeling adventurous” moments, the app presents a unique slot machine widget that allows diners to shake their device and the system will randomly land on a neighborhood, cuisine, and price point. One of those options non-negotiable? “Lock” it, and the search will only randomize the other categories. Diners can also read and submit reviews and make online reservations. Free. Available for iPhone/iPad, Kindle Fire, Android and Blackberry.
Yelp. Although reviews go far beyond just dining establishments, many foodies find the Yelp mobile app indispensable. The site offers exhaustive information on each establishment, recommendations on atmosphere, clientele, and special offers, and in addition to the standard GPS search offers a unique “monocle” feature, which will display which close-by establishments are in the direction they’re facing, the distance, and a hot link to the review page. Yelp is also a social media heavyweight, allowing check ins, badges, titles, user reviews, profiles, friends, and followers, allowing diners to build a coterie of review readers. Free. Available for iPhone/iPad and Android.
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Do you use any of these apps? Know of a great app we missed? Leave a comment below!