Although usual dining etiquette frowns upon playing with your phone at the table, we say sometimes it’s OK. But only if you’re using the new apps designed to improve your dining out experience.
Whether you’re looking to score a reservation at a hot new restaurant, to pair the perfect wine with your entrée, or to pay your bill with your phone, there’s no shortage of apps on the menu to make eating out even more awesome.
We sampled a few for you. Here’s a mini-buffet of our favorites. Dig in.
This isn’t your average restaurant reservation app. The elegantly designed Reserve — billed as an upscale “digital concierge service” — secures dining reservations from a curated list of high-end partnered restaurants in a unique, new way.
Here’s how it works: You tell Reserve the date and time you’d like to dine out. Then the app — which specializes in wrangling seats at popular spots, Michelin-starred locales included — recommends restaurants to you. Next, you tell Reserve which recommendations you like and it scores a reservation for you.
Reservations that you make and keep using the app have a $5 per-dining experience fee that is charged at the end of the meal. If you cancel the reservation, you aren’t charged the fee. Reserve’s customized recommendations come complete with menus, maps, reservation status updates and more.
Like competitor OpenTable, you can also use Reserve to pay your dining bill. Available on iOS devices only for now, the app stores your credit or debit card numbers and tipping preferences, then uses them to automatically pay the tab for you — tax, tip and Reserve’s $5 dining experience fee included. At the end of your meal, you can use the app to provide feedback on your overall dining experience.
Reserve is available in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, with restaurants in additional cities coming aboard soon.
Sometimes a meal is so delicious, you wish you could savor it forever. With Evernote Food on your iOS or Android device you can, virtually. The freshly updated food discovery and documentation tool from the popular organizational app maker helps you find top-rated restaurants near you, then digitally scrapbook the memorable meals you eat at them, all in one place. For example, you can forever capture the memory of the mouth-puckering whole leaf kimchi you devour in Koreatown using Evernote Food’s “My Meals” feature. It lets you quickly catalog standout meals, complete with your own smartphone pics, captions, keyword tags, notes and the restaurant location. Once a meal is entered in a few quick finger swipes, you can share it with your foodie friends direct from the app on Facebook, Twitter and via email.
It’s too bad the app doesn’t post to Instagram or Pinterest, where forn (food porn) rules.
Evernote Food also lets you store recipes, notes and pictures from meals you cooked at home, or anywhere. It also dishes up a robust library of gourmet recipes from popular food blogs around the web — paleo, vegan and vegetarian dishes included.
Now considered a vintage app (it first launched in 2009 and has aged to a fine version 4.8), Hello Vino serves as your own, personal pocket sommelier. The iOS and Android wine recommendation app “for the rest of us” — phew, not wine snobs — tells you which wines pair best with which foods.
If you’re out at dinner and at a loss for which vino to order with your duck à l’orange or your porterhouse steak, it’s no sweat. In two or three swipes of Hello Vino, you’ll know that the former couples nicely with pinot noir or Gewürztraminer, and the latter with syrah or tempranillo. You’ll pair like a pro in no time.
Bonus: Should you indulge in the fermented stuff a little too much, Hello Vino can even hook you up with a ride home via Uber.
Breeze Bluetooth breathalyzer
Speaking of tipping back a few while dining out, it’s best to be 100 percent sure you’re sober enough to drive before you get behind the wheel. That’s where a Breeze Bluetooth breathalyzer comes in handy, and might even be a lifesaver. The latest clever gadget-app combo from Shark Tank success Breathometer turns your iOS or Android device into a DIY breathalyzer.
To decipher your blood-alcohol (BAC) level, you plug Breathometer’s OREO cookie-sized plastic Breeze breathalyzer unit into your smartphone or tablet and blow into it. The device measures your BAC level and communicates it to a Bluetooth-paired Breathometer companion app.
If you blow higher than .08 BAC, the app makes a “get home safe” screen appear on your mobile device. When you’ve had too much, the app gives you the option search local Yelp listings for a cab, reserve an Uber ride or contact a friend for a lift. The Breathometer app also tells you approximately when you’ll be back down to zero BAC. Until you are, it offers you a list of hotels and other places that are within walking distance to wait it out.
By Kim Lachance Shandrow, Entrepreneur.com