One of the biggest names in user-reviewed restaurant listing sites has had an iPhone app since waaay back in 2009. Since that time, they’ve also branched out onto other platforms. Each app offers a slightly different experience, with the iPhone app still being held as the best, although not so much the iPad app. The premise is that you can find restaurants nearby, look up the Urbanspoon ratings for them and get the details to make a booking. You can browse by map, distance or cuisine type and can even shake the phone to get a random restaurant in a chosen (or random) area and at a chosen (or random) price point.
Google purchased Zagat back in 2011 and has now rolled all that review information into its Google+ Local app. If, as an Android user, you’ve installed Google Maps, then you already have Google+ Local installed (it’ll be under ‘Local’ in your app drawer). iOS users need to head over to the App Store. As expected, it uses your current location to let you know what’s nearby, but it also integrates with your Google+ profile to let you know not only what Zagat thinks of restaurants and other businesses, but also what your friends think. This is a fantastic idea that’s potentially let down by the graveyard that is Google+.
Foodspotting differentiates itself from the other restaurant review apps in that it isn’t so much about reviewing restaurants as reviewing specific dishes at restaurants. The analogy they use is that it’s like browsing for food at a giant bakery window. All the dishes are laid out for you to look at (and lust after), so you just have to pick what looks best. It also makes it easy to search for that specific dish you crave. You may be craving an iskender, but they aren’t always on the menu at Turkish restaurants. Or perhaps you just want a good chicken schnitzel burger, which could come from any pub, burger joint or cafe in town.
If you’re a vego or vegan, you may already know about HappyCow, the worldwide vegetarian restaurant listing and review web site. The service offers an official Android app, but there’s also a third-party iPhone app called VegOut. Both offer the ability to find vegetarian, vegan and veg-friendly restaurants, health food stores and other types of vegetarian business near your location (or a specified location) in over 90 countries, including Australia. The Android version is ad-supported or you can drop $2 and get it ad-free. The iOS version is a touch pricier, but comes with a much more attractive interface.
The quest for halal food can be a difficult task, not often helped by the more popular restaurant review apps. Thankfully, the world’s largest halal restaurant, mosque and market guide is also available on iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Like the other apps mentioned here, you can find nearby restaurants using GPS, but you can also read and write reviews (including photos – take that, Urbanspoon and Yelp!) or examine halal authenticity, hours, price and rating, and prayer accommodations.
YumTable is a last-minute restaurant booking service that throws in deals to entice diners to fill empty seats. You can see what deals are currently active as well as how far away the restaurant is from you, or you can filter deals by suburb, price range, cuisine or time of day. Best of all, you can book your table from within the app itself. It’ll then guide you to the restaurant of choice and email your friends to let them know you want to eat with them. All the discounts happen behind the scenes, without the need for coupons or printouts, meaning you won’t look like a tight-arse on that first date.
Yelp is another user-reviewed restaurant finder, but what it lacks in poker machine-style try your luck, it makes up for in content – it searches for more than just restaurants, including bars, cafes, petrol stations and chemists. You can search by neighbourhood, distance from your current location, price and what’s open now (great for those late-night munchies). You can then look up the contact details to book a table. Much like the Urbanspoon app, you still need to make your way to a PC to leave a full review, with the app only supporting draft reviews. A glaring omission from two otherwise great apps.
An honourable mention must go to TripAdvisor, which while aimed at tourists, can aid you just as well in your local city. You can find restaurants based on distance, type, rating and price range. Ratings and reviews are provided by the many TripAdvisor users and cover not only restaurants, but also hotels, attractions and other interesting activities. As it’s for travel, it also has a flight search function. I’ve always found that tourists explore cities with more zeal than locals, so this app may just introduce you to parts of your home town that you never knew existed.
Poynt gives you access to a list of nearby restaurants, including their contact details, but doesn’t offer the maps view that other apps do. It’s also powered by Yellow Pages, which while authoritative, may not be fully representative as I’m sure many businesses just don’t bother paying for that service in a Google-powered world. However, it also offers movie times and cinema locations, so you can arrange your dinner-and-a-movie date all from the one app. Of less relevance to your hot date is its generic business listings functionality, although maybe you could use this to find a pharmacy.
Australian Good Food & Travel Guide
An authority on where you should eat or visit since 1977, the Australian Good Food & Travel Guide reviewers independently appraise more than 25,000 restaurants, accommodation, wineries, bars, attractions, providores and function venues each year, throughout Australia. The app allows you to compare prices, see photos, read and write customer reviews, vote for your favourite places, find recommended specialities, access exclusive offers and discounted rates, and take advantage of member specials. The two versions offer different interfaces, with (as usual) iOS having the edge. Search could be improved in both with the addition of food categories and the number of reviews is dwarfed by the crowd-sourced apps already mentioned.