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High-Tech Help for Dining

Jul 01, 2017 10:22PM ● Published by Jennifer Monahan

Dining out is supposed to be a treat. Whether it is a quick burrito bowl at Chipotle, where you didn’t have to chop a single ingredient, or a luxurious meal at a high-end restaurant where the food comes in multiple courses and the wait staff makes guests feel like royalty, eating away from home should be cause for celebration. However, most of us have had a less-than-wonderful restaurant encounter at some point. These apps can help hungry diners ensure a great experience every time.

Developed right here in Pittsburgh by CMU graduate Robb Myer, the Nowait app saves restaurant patrons time by allowing them to get in line from home—or anywhere else—with the click of a button. Since partnering with Yelp in 2016, Nowait now has the capability to let users check nearby restaurants to find out wait times, select a destination, snag a place in line and then head to the restaurant just in time to be seated. Although large parties or unusual seating requests may still require a phone call or in-person request, Nowait improves the entire dining experience by avoiding a 40-minute wait in the lobby with whiny children (or adults) demanding to know, “How much longer?” (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Open Table makes reservations a snap. Users can scan through a list of restaurants with available reservation times, select their desired option and book the reservation with a finger tap. Each restaurant profile overview provides a photo, location, price gauge, ratings and helpful notes such as “outdoor dining,” “vibrant bar scene” or “fit for foodies.” (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Eat 24 claims it “can make food happen pretty much wherever you are.” The food delivery app lets users know which restaurants in the vicinity have delivery or pick-up options, and placing orders is fairly straightforward. The app itself is free; customers pay the individual restaurant’s standard delivery fees, which are easy to find ahead of time on screen. Reviewers say the service works best for smaller orders—i.e., avoid using Eat 24 to provide food for 30 at your corporate retreat—and appreciate its relatively simple ordering process. What’s not to love about an app whose tag line is “Eat 24–like a food truck in your pants?" (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Coming soon—UberEATS is already in 93 cities, including Pittsburgh. While the current restaurant list is primarily in the downtown area, the service continues to expand and will likely be delivering food from restaurants in the North Hills one day soon. (Free; available for iOS and Android)

Yelp and Trip Advisor are both helpful for finding local restaurants. Yelp’s combination of at-a-glance details about type of food, address, phone number and overall rating along with thoughtful customer reviews make it a reliable source for information. If service is bad or a particular menu item is great, users will be able to read about it on Yelp. Trip Advisor also has comprehensive lists and reviews, although the app is clunkier to navigate. Zomato—formerly Urbanspoon—has similar features. Yelp is the best of the three, for its easy navigation and quality of reviews. (All three apps are free and available for both iOS and Android)

For the mathematically challenged among us, Tip Calculator is a must. The app not only calculates the amount based on the percentage customers want to tip, but allows users to split the bill and round amounts up or down to simplify payment. Reviewers love Tip Calculator’s speed and ease of use—drop in a number and the tip amount and total appear immediately. The best version of this app is available free on Android, but a similar app with the same name is available for iOS. Apps with similar functionality (and similarly strong reviews) include Tip N Split, Tip Me and Tippy Tipper.

Downloading one of these apps takes only a few seconds, but can do wonders to improve your dining experience. Bon appétit!

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