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The other night, over a heated (ha ha) conversation about soup, a new acquaintance asked me, “So, what’s the best soup in San Francisco?”
Being a huge fan of soup (I lead an exciting life), I wished I had an answer to that question. But how to find out? Ask all my fellow soup fiends at the next Soupaholics Anonymous meeting? Organize a soup crawl of every restaurant in the city?
In the end, it was a question for Foodspotting, an app that until now has borne the somewhat inaccurate subheading “the Instagram for foodies.”
Yes, the app is replete with pictures of drool-worthy restaurant dishes, but today’s redesign makes it easier than ever to lurk without snapping pics yourself, to discover new dishes, to filter out the noise, and to get recommendations from real experts on foods you love.
To wit, I could open the app and search for “soup” to see great soups at nearby restaurants.
While browsing soups, I can see how many people in general recommend a particular soup; I can also see how many true soup aficionados recommend the soup and whether a soup is recommended by a partner publication, such as the SF-insidery 7×7 magazine or Travel and Leisure. If I’ve been around town for a while and am familiar with the soupscape, I can filter my search to show only the latest, newest soups.
And then, I can put my phone away, waltz into a restaurant, and boldly order the beet bisque, knowing beyond hesitation that I will soon be tasting one of the very best soups in San Francisco.
“Even the idea of food porn, it sounds like you’re looking just for the sake of looking,” said Foodspotting co-founder and CEO Alexa Andrzejewski in a recent conversation at her startup’s SF office. “I want to get people out in the world, trying the food they find.”
Here’s a brief demo of the new app at work:
Within the redesigned app, you can also permanently hide dishes or entire categories if you don’t want to see them recommended for you. Don’t like sea urchin or beef tripe? Just tap twice, and you’ll never see those foods in your feed again.
Andrzejewski calls these features “Pandora-like”.
“If you just want to use it to discover, you can keep a checklist of great dishes around the city… For those who aren’t big foodies, if you’re just looking for someplace to eat, it works on that level, too,” she said.
Andrzejewski also said the app comes in handy when you’re at a new restaurant with a perplexing panoply of menu options and don’t know what to pick.
“It’s like a picture menu for anywhere,” she said. “You can sit down at a restaurant and without looking over anyone’s shoulder, you can see the must-try dishes. I think that’s the use case with the biggest market.”
And while many apps these days are focusing on showing you recommendations from your friends, the Foodspotting app recognizes that even the closest of friends can have radically different palates. While you can get recommendations from your buddies, Andrzejewski said, “What’s more relevant than being friends is knowing that I’m similar to you in taste.”
For revenue options, two-year-old Foodspotting has tapped ScoutMob for partnership. The startup is testing local “specials” at restaurants. All the user has to do is show the special on the phone screen to the participating food vendor, and he or she gets a discount.
“We’re also building relationships with restaurants, helping restaurants communicate with people who are looking for food,” Andrzejewski revealed.
As our conversation continued, we meandered down delicious tangents — sushi burritos (Foodspotting recommends one near the VentureBeat office in the city’s financial district), goat cheese ice cream with raspberry sauce, the quest for the perfect Shanghai soup dumpling (“I’m actually a dumpling expert on Foodspotting,” said Andrzejewski, who has “spotted” amazing dumplings around the world), and a pie milkshake at local hotspot Chile Pies.
All these dishes are things I probably wouldn’t find, even in my own city, without using an app like Foodspotting. During the conversation, I found myself taking notes not just about the app, but about all the foods I wanted to look up on the app when I got home.
Ultimately, the best thing about Foodspotting is that it’s helping us find these amazing treats within our favorite neighborhoods or in new cities.
“When people say we’re the Instragram of food, it sounds like this is a niche thing that’s only for foodies,” said Andrezejewski. “I don’t even like the word ‘foodie’… I think everyone wants to try the best thing when they go out.”
Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell.