Hangrui “Henry” Shi found himself in a crisis of choice. He didn’t know what kind of food to order for delivery. The variety of menu options available on Yelp, Seamless, GrubHub, and other similar food-to-mouth sites, “made it more difficult than it needed to be,” Shi said.
A programmer, Shi often found himself skipping meals rather than taking five or ten minutes to pick out something to eat; he felt the process interrupted his focus. So in some spare time this summer he and an engineer he knew from college, Corey Lee, put together an app geared towards foodies and the couch-bound: a Tinder for food.
Their app, FoodNow, has been available for free download in the iTunes store since August 21, but only works in New York City for now. And it’s just one option in a growing feast of new, free food-related apps and web-based services that seek to use game-like matchmaking interfaces similar to dating apps to help you quickly find your next meal.
Shi acknowledges that part of FoodNow’s core market is the late-night, inebriated crowd who want any transaction for food to be as simple as possible. Here’s a look at FoodNow and four other food delivery apps for the hungry (and lazy).
Ordering In Even When You’re Not at Home
Gnamgnam (the ‘g’ is presumably pronounced silently, so it reads like the meme “nom nom”) is an app designed to simplify getting food or merchandise delivered from vendors to customers at stadiums, festivals, hotels and restaurants — its tagline is “Food delivered. Anywhere.” Users enjoying their event can pick a vendor and scroll through a visual menu of items available to order, with an additional scroll bar on top to browse by section. Once they pay through the app, they receive a notification when their purchase is ready for pickup, limiting the amount of action they might miss…and their wait time in line.
Watching Your Waste
Americans waste lots of food. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (using 2010 data) 1,249 calories per capita per day goes wasted, more than half the average adult’s daily intake.
Their goal may be noble, but the results are bound to fall short unless or until more users participate: Ratatouille didn’t display any hits when tested (it’s been in the Apple App Store since April 25). LeftoverApp, which first debuted last year, had a few more hits (after an expansive search) but the only one in Manhattan was literally “Nothing.” A few hits came up around L.A.: one for a tasty sounding rice with Indian beef sauce and one for … nine ‘Raz-ber-ita’ flavored Bud Lights (“I really just don’t like the flavor,” the user warned prospective fridge divers).
For now, using both food conservation apps felt like being at the frontier (or possibly abandoned ghost-town) of social networks: you’re pretty much out there on your own.
Local Doesn’t Just Mean the Place Down the Street
Founders Duane Dahl and Cindy Henry developed a couple of the Internet’s early dating sites, Kiss.com and PerfectMatch.com, before trying their hand at more edible engagements. Agrilicious promises to connect you with small farmers, matching you with locally grown produce to throw something together in your kitchen. Just like the more traditional (if that’s what you can call it at this point) dating sites out there, Dahl and Henry encourage their users to invest themselves in local farms and healthy eating for a more lasting relationship than your standard 3 a.m. call for dim sum.
Launched earlier this year, the site is fairly robust; a search of from upper Manhattan brought several pages worth of results, ranging from dietitians to markets and community supported agriculture.
Who Needs a Menu?
FoodNow differs from some other app options in that you don’t have to scan a menu: you either like what you’re shown or you swipe to see something else (but can backtrack if you change your mind). If you want to order the food you hit a “Get Fed” button or swipe right, to look at another choice hit “Skip” or swipe left. You can filter by price (with $8, $12, $16, and $20 tiers) and wait time but basically the app, like Tinder, wants you either say you like what’s in front of you or move on.
When I first tried it, FoodNow provided an array of decent lunch options nearby, but when I tried to pay for my order, I ran into some glitches. A week later I gave it another try. This time it worked. A delivery man arrived at my door with a grilled chicken breast about forty minutes after I ordered.
Sometimes finding that right meal just takes a little bit more effort.
Colin Wilhelm is a New York City-based journalist. He writes much more briefly @colinwilhelm.
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