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Apps to improve the dining experience


It’s the end of the third course.

A few friends huddle in a booth at The Chase — a hip top-floor fine dining spot on Temperance St., occupied with chatter and laughs — their glasses of red vino nearly depleted as wait staff clear out the remaining dishes.

This is the time when a white paper bill should appear, prompting patrons to rifle through their wallets for the right amount with tip or to awkwardly punch in numbers when the debit terminal arrives.

But all that has changed with just a swipe on a cellphone.

“We’re able to take what otherwise would’ve been a very cumbersome dining experience into a seamless transaction,” explained Adam Epstein, the creator of Tab. The Toronto-based mobile dining app is designed to provide diners the option of splitting the bill and paying for it through their phone using credit card information.

The beauty of Tab is you can just get up and leave without a fuss.

Tab – A Better Dining Experience from Tab on Vimeo.

“We believe we are providing a personalized dining experience,” added Epstein. “We believe it will be a replacement for the traditional wireless terminal. We really curate our spots to restaurants that really care about the guests’ experience and hospitality. This becomes more personal and conversational.”

Toronto’s growing appetite for apps — not meaning appetizers — that make the dining experience easier has created a smorgasbord of options such as allowing patrons to reserve tables, browse digital menus, brag about a beautiful dish, and pay the bill without waiting for a waiter to present it.

In Tab’s case, Epstein launched his app in April with a trial run of 12 restaurants, growing to 50 with a recent daily transaction total of around $ 500,000.

Besides Tab, The Chase also uses another app called, OpenTable, which allows foodies to reserve online at restaurants which sign up for the service. If a timeslot on a certain day is filled, then it will look for an opening within a 2 1/2 hours, or other days of the week.

People can also earn dining points that accumulate and can be cashed in for meals.

“It will turn over tables quicker,” said Michael Kimel, co-founder of Chase Hospitality Group. “With the iPad POS station, eventually where that will go is they’ll know my name, that I’ve been to The Chase 10 times, that my favourite drink is a Caesar and my favourite app is a shrimp cocktail.”

Another made-in-Toronto dining app called maegan launched in May and serves as an “everything dining” app. Users can discover a roster of 24 restaurants, browse digital menus, post their experience using social media, manage their orders and pay for their meals on their smartphones.

Cris Jucan, CEO of maegan, said diners often look up the restaurant before heading out the door.

Most likely they’re going to look on social media, what people are saying about the restaurant and then they’re going to make a decision,” he said. “People are researching.”

In the case of blogTO’s mobile food trucks app, it’s a matter of locating where the nearest vehicle is for lunch because food trucks tend to rotate to different spots around the city or some may not be in service every day.

“Without the app it’s a big mystery where trucks might be on a given day,” said Tim Shore, founder of blogTO and publisher of Toronto Food Trucks.

“I think the challenge these apps face is to break through the clutter. What each app has to do is prove right off the bat that it provides an immediate benefit that a user isn’t getting from some other food app they already know how to use (and probably works well enough).”

Meanwhile, food writers say these mobile dining apps may not have necessarily made dining easier, but different.

“Just think of what it used to be, you’d have to call the restaurant and pray they’d answer the phone during a busy dinner rush,” said Ethan Adeland, co-founder of Food Bloggers of Canada Inc.

“Or when planning a trip, you’d have to worry about long-distance charges and possibly a language barrier and pray that your name was entered correctly in the reservation book in pencil. Nowadays, it’s pretty incredible to think you can book a reservation six weeks in advance anywhere in the world at 2 a.m. from the comfort of your home. If something will make my dining experience better, I’m all for it.”

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