App of the Week: Foodspotting

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a weekly series that will appear every Monday in which MainStreet spotlights one new smartphone app that can help readers manage their money, shop better or improve their job search. Check back each week to find out how to make your smartphone even smarter!

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Have you ever ordered a dish at a restaurant, only to be taken aback by how it looked when it arrived at your table?

Foodspotting aims to eliminate that surprise factor by showing you exactly what the different dishes at nearby restaurants look like. By doing so, the app takes a radically different approach to finding diners a place to eat.

Unlike other restaurant-discovery services like Yelp and Urban Spoon, Foodspotting makes a restaurant’s dishes front and center. Rather than simply bringing up a list of nearby dining establishments with a description of the cuisines and ratings, Foodspotting instead displays photos of various dishes at area restaurants. So instead of seeing a list of restaurant names that mean nothing to you, you’ll instead see pictures of a pastrami sandwich, a BLT, a peanut butter cupcake or a sesame-seared tuna, for instance. Each photo is accompanied by the name of the restaurant and its approximate distance from your current location, and with a click you can bring up a map to get directions to the establishment. You can also click through to see any other dishes that have been “spotted” at the restaurant, so when you walk in the door you have an idea of what you want to order.

As you might expect, the content is all user-generated: Anyone who downloads the app can create an account and then use their phone’s camera to snap a picture of their favorite dish and upload it for all to see. If the app has one real shortcoming, it’s that not enough people have done so, at least as far as we could see. Many local establishments have no presence at all on the app, and some relatively well-trafficked restaurants have only one or two photos uploaded to the site. In other words, don’t download this app expecting to see every food item available at every restaurant in the neighborhood.

But for now, anyway, the app is great for what it is: An innovative and intuitive way to discover the specific food items sold at nearby establishments and what they look like. If you’re specifically looking for burgers, pizza or sushi, you can use the app’s filters to show you only pictures of that particular item and help you narrow your food hunt. And if a dish – say, Chilean sea bass – catches your eye, the app will also show you all of the other local restaurants that serve the dish so you can choose the one that looks the tastiest. 

The app is free to download for iPhones, iPads, Androids, BlackBerrys and Windows phones.

Foodspotting is far from the only app that helps put food in your belly. Here’s MainStreet’s roundup of the 14 apps that help you save at the grocery store.

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