What's for Dinner? Ask These 7 Start-ups
Cookbooks are passé, delivery menus are boring, and even Yelp reviews are starting to look a little ragged these days. A new wave of apps and start-up websites want to improve your everyday dining experiences by bringing intuitive searching, trusted recommendations, and even home-cooked options from neighbors into your kitchen. Here are some of our favorites.
How it works: This recipe finder works on intuitive browsing, so it's less like you're researching an exact set of instructions and more like you're curiously surfing based on items you have in your fridge. The goal is to bring you fresh and interesting recipes through a simple interface that emphasizes attractive pictures to whet your taste buds. You make the recipe browsing even more personal by telling Gojee what ingredients you don't like and favoriting the things you do. You can even link your loyalty card from some grocery store chains and download your purchases straight into Gojee. The recipes come from writers selected by Gojee. "It adds a layer of delight to how people navigate the Web," co-founder Michael Lavelle says.
Business model: Gojee raised a venture round led by Kapor Capital, but it's planning on teasing out the revenue strategy over the next six to 12 months. "The experience will be evolving a lot so it's a bit early to pick a clear direction," Lavelle says.
Fun fact: The site is full of unlockable Easter eggs: search a term of favorite a certain item and you might be treated to a unicorn driving a Cadillac singing a Snoop Dog song.
How it works: This app lets you choose what to eat, read, or do based on the recommendations of your friends. There's no complicated rating system here: a stamp means full-out enthusiasm, and you get a limited supply of stamps, which helps keep each member discerning (but you can earn more if your friends double stamp you). When looking for something yummy to eat on the go, you'll no longer have to rely on the muddled ratings of anonymous strangers. That is, if you trust the pallets of your friends.
Business model: The app is integrated with the ability to make reservations through OpenTable, purchase movie tickets through Fandango, books through Amazon, and songs through iTunes, all of which kick money back to the company.
Fun fact: The app was backed by Google Ventures, and with good reason: four of its head team members worked at Google. The company's advisors are name-grabbers too: celebrity chef Mario Batali and Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram.
Real Time Farms
How it works: This is a crowd-sourced foodie website showcasing local and sustainable eating options based on location, including a farmers market finder and a restaurant locator to help track down eateries that source locally. You can also search by ingredient to see where it's available nearby. The site takes the guesswork out of eating sustainably and aims to let you trace your local food chain from source to plate. "I believe that when people know more about where their food comes from, they are led naturally towards choices that are healthiest for themselves and the environment," co-founder Karl Rosaen says on the company's website.
Business model: Real Time Farms calls itself a "for-profit social enterprise" with a scalable business model that will allow it to grow. The site charges restaurants $40 a month to have a menu listed.
Fun fact: Co-foudner Rosaen was on the team that launched the Google Android platform in 2009. The site also launched a Food Warrior Summer Internship Program who go out and collect data in prime regions of the country such as New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
Grub With Us
How it works: Somewhere between Meetup and OpenTable, Grub With Us lets you find dining partners based on meals, location, or common interests. For instance, you can find a group of fellow hackers you might want to meet in real life, reserve a spot at the table and pre-pay for the meal. And then you have a family meal with a new group of friends you just met. You might discover interesting new foods too.
Business model: Grub With Us came through Y Combinator's start-up incubator program. Grub With Us charges restaurants a fee for the bookings. It works with restaurants to coordinate a meal for the group, but, unlike group deals sites, the meals are not heavily discounted.
Fun fact: Grub With Us started with the desire to return to real-life socializing through the Internet. Co-founders Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano started it when they had trouble making friends upon moving to Chicago to start a cream puff business.
How it works: Gdine seeks to eliminate that arduous intern task of calling around every restaurant in the city to see if they have the size and time to accommodate the large office party. You search by day, number of people or size of your party and narrow it down from there. It even has a Split the Check feature that lets you sort out the bill right through the site.
Business model: Gdine negotiates special rates and fixed-price menus with businesses to offer a group deal for booking a meal. It launched with $500,000 from an angel investor, and it takes a percentage of the pre-paid business. The goal is to save you money—and hassle—when trying to find somewhere that can fit the whole office.
Fun fact: The site only covers Chicago now, but it has stated plans to move into New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington D.C. It provides tips too: its guides section includes posts on "places to impress the client" and "girls night out."
How it works: For when you want a restaurant-quality meal without leaving the comfort of your own home (or having to cook yourself), try Kitchit. Like TaskRabbit and other similar collaborative consumption models, chefs on the site offer their services on profile pages, which include rates per person, different menus they prepare, and detailed user reviews. The list includes renowned executive chefs, restaurant owners, and up-and-comers, but each chef is pre-screened by Kitchit. The chefs do all the work, just like a traditional caterer: shopping, prep and cleaning.
Business model: Once you've selected a chef to hire, Kitchit takes a 10 to 20 percent fee out of the price.
Fun fact: Limited to the San Francisco area right now, the site's founders have said they plan to expand to other major cities within the next year. If drinks are more your thing, additional services such as bartending duties, wine pairings, and even a vodka ice luge, can be ordered through chefs on the site.
How it works: A step down from the intense super-chef level of Kitchit, Gobble focuses on good old-fashioned home-cooked meals from chefs in your own neighborhood. Gobble prides itself on all-natural home cooking of fresh, healthy, and authentic meals from a cadre of pre-screened moms, dads, sisters, brothers, uncles, grandmothers, and others who specialize in different cuisines from around the world. It's a peer-to-peer take on take-out. The meals are often cheaper than a restaurant: a current bid offers Tofu Pad See Ew for $12 per person. Users can either pick up their meals or have them delivered for an extra fee.
Business plan: The site has raised more than $1.2 million in angel investors, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. Once a chef sets a fee, Gobble collects a percentage on top of the amount.
Fun fact: The company was founded by then-24-year-old Ooshma Garg (a previous Inc. 30 Under 30 honoree) who was tired of the lack of healthy, authentic meals in the busy start-up world. She based the site on a memory of how her parents would order meals from friends when they didn't have time to cook.
TIM DONNELLY | Columnist | Inc.com Contributor
Tim Donnelly is a freelance writer and managing editor of Brokelyn.com. His work has appeared in Billboard, The Atlantic, Thought Catalog, and The New York Post.