Local cook and all-round nice guy Colby LeMoine is, as…
I’ve been playing around on and familiarizing myself with a relatively new local food app called FOODieLICIOUS.
Created by a team of local folks, led by entrepreneur Ryan Hammar, here in Waterloo Region, the web and mobile app has been designed to build “a community” of diners and restaurateurs in Waterloo Region. That is certainly something I can abide, as that has been one of the mandates of Waterloo Region Eats and my work in the region for the last decade or more.
Hammar, himself a former employee of the food and beverage industry, displays no little passion for the restaurant scene and says the app is unique in the region in what it does for both restaurant and diner.
“Foodielicious will help restaurants showcase their signature dishes, features and deals at the same time it provides information about the individual establishment,” Hammar says.
Although the site is currently in Beta as they tweak it, work out kinks, and strive to update the database of restaurants, you can log into www.foodielicious.ca, where you will see six tiles: Deals, Exclusive Deals (pending), Drinks, Dining, Favourites, Events.
Click the Drinks category, for example, and you will see a series of sub-categories to click on (style of venue, price, distance, for instance): that could take you to, say, Abe Erb in downtown Waterloo where there is a “Grist Mill Mondays” special of a 20-oz. pint for $5. There is also a raft of other information and social media connections, the venue’s address, hours and a short overview of and brief facts about the business. It also shows icons indicating wifi, patio, vegan options and other amenities.
“We will also showcase cool facts about each restaurant, giving users insight into the history or uniqueness of the restaurants and their owners and operators. An added benefit to users is access to exclusive deals, that are only available to our paying users,” Hammar says. More about that in a moment.
I have to say that I like that there is no review component — given the nonsense and ill-informed blathering-rhetoric and seeming psychosis that too often poses for “food reviews” on the good ol’ internets. I imagine there is part of every restaurateur who finds this exclusive similarly welcoming. “We feel reviews may not accurately depict a restaurant,” says Hammar. “We want to have the restaurant’s passion be the factor to help a user decide on a place to dine. There will, however, be a favourite-button that users can select.”
Fair enough. I’m okay with that. We can always interpret what wasn’t clicked as a favourite, as I might do. Nor all of the restaurants are ones that I would entertain going to — and I’m sure that’s the same for you. I believe that Foodielicious is trying to be as eclectic, democratic and demographic in its selection process, chain restaurant or no.
Currently, as the site grows and populates, there are no Exclusive Deals but they are coming, according to Hammar. When they do get here, it will cost users — that is, the restaurant diner or customer — $30 annually. That’s a reasonable rate, it seems to me. And he’ quick to point out that there’s a dual benefit to the business. “This gives the restaurant an opportunity to identify and harness potential new patrons or fill seats for certain times. They will also be able to use an exclusive deal to test a new dish in order to judge its reception.”
At this juncture, Foodielicious is a smorgasbord of 220 restaurants taking part. As might be expected at this phase of their growth, Hammar says that restaurants, as he meets with them, are catching on to the process for adding their own data regularly. That’s what diners are going to want to see. The Exclusive Deals component is around the corner. “Once we partner with 50 restaurants who offer three exclusive deals each, we will launch that component. We have to be sure there is enough value to our paying users to ask for any money,” he says.
While I do check in regularly looking for information and “deals,” I have not actually taken up a restaurant on what they are offering as of yet. I believe as a user you simply show the app to the restaurant to be able to take advantage of the deal.
Though they want to make money, I’m sure that Foodielicious is sincere in also wanting to “create a positive atmosphere, so the restaurant is excited to have the user and the user is excited to be there,” as Hammar phrases it. Users get mobile access to a wide variety of local, international restaurant options, and the information will likely prove useful in informing potential patrons about restaurants they may not have heard of, or have not yet tried out; that might just earn a spot in their new favourite places to dine. Restaurants can also market their events, such as the musical acts at their venue, through the searchable Foodielicious feed.
It’s good that it doesn’t cost anything for restaurants to join in terms of money, and in the time crunch of the restaurant world, the Foodielicious folks say they’ve addressed tactics and logistics so that restaurateurs and chefs can update their accounts easily from either their smartphone or desktop. “We see the app as being a robust one for restaurants being able to directly market to our users and interest new patrons,” Hammar says. “It is free for restaurants. The only limitations are that we allow only five photos and only five regular deals to be posted. We want to keep the playing field fair for all who participate, no matter the budget or size of the venue.”
As for users — you and I who might log in looking for “deals” on food — the cost is low at that $30 per year, yes, and though I have never been an advocate or supporter of “discounting of food” as a strategy or a desirable race to the bottom for the industry (and I will also note that I have no stake whatsoever in the Foodielicious app or its business), I do see value in the marketing and communications components for the restaurants. That has been part of my motivation for doing what I do. There are lots and lots of excellent independent dining venues in the region, large and small; yet where, too often, do diners’ bucks land? Well, at big national chains possessed of marketing-millions (and marketing-minions) to keep their brand front-and-centre in the customers’ mind through multi-media. We’d do well to remember that those chain prices are not always the lowest, nor is their service and atmosphere the best. Maybe this app can address that by helping smaller restaurants reach a wider demographic?
As I write this, Canada Post has just delivered a booklet of coupons chock-a-block full of discounted food. How is this app different? Granted, the coupons allow the restaurant’s advertising money to be tracked (as restaurants can see the activity generated by their offers on the app), but they do incur a cost to be part of the printed and mailed booklet, Hammar points out. “With Foodielicious, updating is instant and interactive. And it is a part of something that everyone is on already, their smartphone or computer.” That’s a special and growing demographic.
While coupons do have benefits, Hammar says that clipping the deal gets you only that deal, whereas the app will offer deals that rotate so you can try something new, as often as the restaurant creates a special, and that’s especially so with the exclusive deals. “Keep in mind too that the restaurant can limit each exclusive deal, either by amount or within a time frame,” he says.
Speaking of exclusivity, at this moment, Foodielicious is exclusive to Waterloo Region and while Hammar sees the app growing nationally and internationally, the small team of marketers and developers working with him seem to really want to hone the thing right here at home. I do like its local aspect and one that grew organically, is self-made, and did not seek government funding or investors. “We built this on our passion for our community and passion for eating right,” Hammar says. “We believe we can expand to all of Canada and the globe, and we would like play a roll in helping customers find their favourite gem, from the coast of Newfoundland to the heart of Paris. First, however, we will start with helping you find your gem in the region.”
Though in Beta, as I’ve noted, Hammar intimates that there is more content and more functions coming for phase two, including “crawls” and other activities. That’s the thing about Waterloo Region: there’s always something around the corner, even when it’s decidedly low-tech like food and drink — and nicely so.