If you own a smartphone, you already know how incredibly useful it can be for finding nearby businesses. And if you eat out regularly, you may search for restaurants as much as any other type of service. Being able to quickly locate an eatery in close proximity can be useful, especially if you're in unfamiliar territory.
But just finding a restaurant's location doesn't give you all the details you need to make a good decision. You probably want to know how other people rated the food and what price range to expect for your meal. Restaurant-specific apps provide this useful data to help you optimize your eating experience.
In this article, we look at five highly rated restaurant applications that you can install on your smartphone. Each application has a unique combination of features to help you decide where to dine. We'll start by looking at a popular app that spotlights locally owned restaurants.
LocalEats is a well-established restaurant Web site that also offers mobile apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. LocalEats focuses on locally owned restaurants only -- no national chains. In 2010, LocalEats was the most popular paid dining app in iTunes [source: Apple].
The interface for LocalEats is simple: It prompts you to choose whether to search in your city (if it's on the list of cities in the app), nearby (within several miles of where the GPS finds you), or from among your favorites. If you select a city, you'll use a tabbed interface to search from the top 100 in that city, browse the "Best Of" in certain categories, or look for restaurants by neighborhood or type of cuisine.
Once you select a restaurant, a tabbed interface provides the location, category, price range, Web site link, detailed description and comments. You can view photos of the establishment, or use links in the interface to call the restaurant before you go. You can even use LocalEats to book a taxi to take you home when your meal's finished.
LocalEats is ideal if you have a passion for supporting local businesses. In the U.S., the app is free for Android, 99 cents for the iPhone and $2.99 for BlackBerry users. To manage and share your favorite finds online as well as on your phone, create a LocalEats user account.
Our next app goes for visual appeal and includes national restaurant chains alongside the locals.
Foodspotting puts food on the map -- literally. The Foodspotting Web site features a Google-powered map overlaid with featured images (usually of a signature dish) from each restaurant on that map. Foodspotting is a free download for both for iPhone and Android, and was an iTunes App of the Week in October 2010 [source: Apple].
Foodspotting changes the way you share your feedback about restaurants. Instead of writing comments about food, you can snap a quick photo and post on Foodspotting. Then, if you like a dish, you can recommend it to others.
The app's search feature opens with three tabs to choose from: Nearby (the app can identify your location), Latest and Best. Toggle between viewing images only or a map with images if location is a priority. If you don't see something you want, enter keywords in the search text box. Click any photo for more information on the menu item pictured.
While you're looking at a photo, you have four options. First, if you like a photo, you can vote for it by clicking "Great shot." If you like the food and want to recommend it to others, put a blue ribbon on it by clicking "Nom it!" Show your approval of the photo contribution by clicking "Great find!" Finally, click "Want it!" to save the food as something you want to try.
Next, let's check out an app that's bringing more than three decades of survey experience to modern mobile electronics.
Zagat Survey has been around since 1979, gathering customer feedback on restaurants, bars and entertainment venues worldwide. Long before any of the other apps on this list, Zagat guides in print were a trusted source for finding a great restaurant, especially for those who travel. When travelers started relying on smartphones more than guidebooks, Zagat stayed current by developing its own mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm and BlackBerry.
Restaurants are just one of four categories of businesses you can find in the Zagat app. You can also use the Zagat app to research hotels, shops and nightlife. Zagat makes use of GPS to focus the search in your area, and its advanced search lets you narrow the results with key words. Besides finding businesses and reading Zagat review data, you can use the app to submit your own reviews.
With its legacy of survey experience behind it, Zagat is more pricey than the other apps in our list. Zagat is a subscription service that costs $9.99 for one year. Note that the app gives you access to the latest Zagat data for much less money than you would spend if you bought each updated guide off the shelf. A single printed Zagat restaurant guide for one city costs nearly $16 retail and doesn't have the option to contribute your own feedback at the touch of a button.
The next app in our list has become famous for the unique way it randomizes its recommendations.
Urbanspoon has shaken up the search for dining out. Just by giving your phone a quick shake, you can spin through your choices in a virtual slot machine to get a random restaurant recommendation. The shaking makes use of your smartphone's accelerometer, but you can also just touch the Spin button on the screen if waving your phone around in public makes you self-conscious. Urbanspoon is available free for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.
To narrow recommendations, you can scroll the slot machine wheels to specific preferences and lock in those choices before you spin. You can also disable the sound if you don't want to hear the simulated slot machine every time you give your choices a whirl. Repeat the spin until a recommendation that you like appears. Then, click that recommendation to learn more about the restaurant.
Urbanspoon's restaurant information includes operating hours, photos and reviews. You can vote whether or not you like a restaurant and see if other users have liked it. Urbanspoon also provides quick links to call the restaurant or locate it on a map.
If you don't like the slot machine approach, you can browse restaurants by various classifications or view a list of Urbanspoon listings near your current location. Urbanspoon also has options to upload your own photos for a restaurant and to connect with friends who are also using the app.
Urbanspoon is fun to use, but the next app is a full gamification of restaurant searching.
Yelp is a Web site and mobile app combination specializing in getting reviews on a variety of businesses, a quarter of which are restaurants. Yelp puts user ratings and comments at the forefront. You have many options for interacting with Yelp: Checking in, adding a tip, uploading a photo, drafting a review and bookmarking a location are all ways to tailor your experience. Like other apps on our list, Yelp's restaurant profiles include useful information like wheelchair accessibility, noise level and parking availability.
Yelp is also a gamification app that rewards users for connecting with friends and checking in at locations. Become a Regular by checking in a lot at a certain location; top that list, and you can become Duke. For more details about this and other Yelp features, check out our article How Yelp Works.
We've targeted restaurant apps that cover a broad range of cuisines. There are a couple of apps worth noting, though, for those with special interests. VegOut for iPhone, powered by HappyCow.net, provides information and ratings for vegetarian, vegan and vegetarian-friendly establishments. DrinkOwl, both on the Internet and for iPhone and Android, lists daily specials on alcoholic beverages at area bars and restaurants. For an easier way to find and make dinner reservations online, check out Open Table.
Besides the ones listed here, there are many more apps out there to help you find restaurants. For some honorable mentions and lots more about restaurant apps, chow down on the information on the next page.
Who's gonna get you the best hotel deal or tell you not to take that cruise during an outbreak of the latest super bug? A travel adviser, that's who.
More Great Links
- Apple, Inc. "iTunes Preview: Foodspotting." (July 4, 2011) ttp://itunes.apple.com/us/app/foodspotting/id350727118?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
- Apple, Inc. "iTunes Preview: LocalEats." (July 4, 2011) http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/localeats/id285518463?mt=8
- Apple, Inc. "iTunes Preview: Urbanspoon." (July 4, 2011) http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/urbanspoon/id284708449?mt=8
- Apple, Inc. "iTunes Preview: Urbanspoon." (July 4, 2011) http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/yelp/id284910350?mt=8
- Foodspotting. "About." (July 4, 2011) http://www.foodspotting.com/about
- Google. "Android Market: Foodspotting." (July 4, 2011) https://market.android.com/details?id=com.foodspotting&feature=search_result
- Google. "Android Market: LocalEats." (July 4, 2011) https://market.android.com/details?id=com.magellanpress.localeats&feature=search_result
- Google. "Android Market: Urbanspoon." (July 4, 2011) https://market.android.com/details?id=com.urbanspoon&feature=search_result
- Google."Android Market: Yelp." (July 4, 2011) https://market.android.com/details?id=com.yelp.android&feature=search_result
- Google."Android Market: Zagat." (July 4, 2011) https://market.android.com/details?id=com.semaphoremobile.zagat.android&feature=search_result
- LocalEats. "LocalEats Mobile." (July 4, 2011) http://www.localeats.com/
- Research In Motion Limited. "BlackBerry App World: LocalEats." (July 4, 2011) http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/content/1392?lang=en
- Research In Motion Limited. "BlackBerry App World: Zagat." (July 4, 2011) http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/content/43458?lang=en
- Urbanspoon. "About Us." (July 4, 2011) http://www.urbanspoon.com/about
- Yelp. "About Us." (July 4, 2011) http://www.yelp.com/about
- Yelp. "An Introduction to Yelp: Metrics as of April 2011." April 2011. (July 5, 2011) http://www.yelp.com/html/pdf/Snapshot_April_2011_en.pdf
- Zagat Survey, Inc. "About." (July 4, 2011) http://www.zagat.com/about-us
- Zagat Survey, Inc. "About ZAGAT for iPhone." (July 4, 2011)
- Zagat Survey, Inc. "About ZAGAT TO GO for Windows Phone 7." (July 4, 2011) http://www.zagat.com/mobile/windows7
- Zagat Survey, Inc. "About ZAGAT TO GO for Palm webOS." (July 4, 2011) http://www.zagat.com/mobile/palm-pre
- Zagat Survey, Inc. "About ZAGAT for iPhone." (July 4, 2011) http://www.zagat.com/mobile/iphone