By Jen Edwards
Whether you’re a true gourmet or someone who can’t do anything more complicated than pulling a frozen pizza out of the oven, you probably enjoy going out to eat. Wouldn’t it be nice if your iPad could help you find some new restaurants? Whether you’re on the road for business or hanging out in your home town, these apps can help you break out of your rut and experience something new.
OpenTable for iPad is designed to make restaurant reservations, but it can do more than that, helping you discover an array of dining options you may not be familiar with, even if you’re a native and not just passing through. When you first start the app, it asks for permission to use your location; tap yes and you will almost immediately see a Google map showing nearby restaurants participating in the Open Table network. Tap on one of the map pins to get the restaurant name and available reservation times; if you’re interested in learning more you can tap on the arrow to get more information. The restaurant details page includes the address, a photo, a description, and diner reviews. A link to the restaurant’s web site, if available, offers menu information, and you can also mark restaurants as your favorite.
Making reservations on OpenTable for iPad is as easy as tapping a time on the restaurant details page; you will then be prompted to log in to your OpenTable account if you like (not required) and enter your name, phone number, and email address. You can also add special requests if you like, though of course there’s no guarantee. If you do decide to join the OpenTable network, you will receive dining offers and earn points toward free meals at participating restaurants.
The OpenTable for iPad app is a pleasant surprise, because it offers a lot of information about each restaurant and is very well-organized. Since it is reservation-based, the selection of restaurants is a cut above the usual every day, so there’s a targeted selection of choices, all generally excellent.
If you’re not sure what you’re looking for and need to find a restaurant for a special event, check out the OpenTable for iPad app. And even if you know exactly what you want and choose to find a particular restaurant by name, there isn’t any faster way to make a dinner reservation. Why waste your time calling a place that doesn’t have an open table? Use OpenTable and you’ll know what your options are almost immediately, and actually making those reservations takes just a few taps of your finger.
Like OpenTable, the UrbanSpoon for iPad app is powered by Google Maps, so the interface will seem quite familiar. Once you give the app permission to use your location, you will see all of the available restaurant options near you. That can be somewhat overwhelming; in Dallas there were 12,336 options from which to choose!
Fortunately UrbanSpoon for iPad has a brilliant method for narrowing everything down for you. If you’ve used the service on your computer, you already know what to do: select a neighborhood, type of cuisine, and price range, then hit the Spin button and see what the app picks for you. If you’re in the mood for curry, swipe your finger up and down on the slider to find that option, and then tap the lock button to make sure that all of the suggestions are Indian. You can also choose the “Show Popular” option in the lower left corner of the screen to highlight the best available choices, as voted on by UrbanSpoon users.
Tap on any restaurant’s pin to bring up additional information from the UrbanSpoon web site, such as phone number and address details, photos, menus, and full user reviews. If you’re offline, you won’t be able to access the additional information but you will be able to access cached information, which includes restaurant names and locations on the map. That means you can use UrbanSpoon at the hotel to look up information for the area, and if your plans change you’ll still be able to pick another restaurant nearby.
The UrbanSpoon for iPad app is free, and it’s an excellent addition to your mobile dining arsenal. An iPhone version of UrbanSpoon is also available, if you happen to be traveling light.
Where to Eat ($2.99)
The Where to Eat iPad app provides several food-related tools that go beyond the title of the app. When you first start, you are presented with an empty plate on the table that is covered with icons. Tap any one to be taken to your local dining options. Starting at the top and going clockwise, the knife and fork icon represent all restaurants, the globe allows you to choose by type of cuisine, and the coffee cup locates all of the nearest coffeehouses. Continuing around the circle we find options for delivery, carryout, other useful links (such as transportation services), food shopping, and fast food. The beer mug represents bars and pubs, and the last one allows you to choose by restaurant type (buffets, family style, fine dining, etc.)
Tapping on any restaurant name in the Where to Eat iPad app shows the restaurant location on the map, and you also have the opportunity to read and/or write a review. Icons in the top right corner invite you to view your favorite restaurants, go back to a list of recently viewed options, or access the Goodies or settings menus. The Goodies menu is interesting; it includes a handy tip calculator and check splitter in addition to a free e-book that has information on the basics of dieting, understanding calories, and fat. It’s a strange addition to a dining app, but it could have some helpful information for those who want to dine out but are still watching their weight.
I like the customization options of Where to Eat, but it doesn’t seem the app is quite ready for prime time — I experienced several crashes during my testing, and found that it contains some rather questionable information. When I tapped on “brewpubs” for example, it brought up a listing for the Miller Brewing Company the next county over, which isn’t quite what I had in mind. In other respects the app is extremely accurate, such as listing a local Chinese restaurant in the delivery section when they have only been offering the service for a couple of weeks. There are some good features here, but you’ll need to use your common sense for the time being, until future updates correct the crash issues and some of the odd information.
Zagat to Go ($9.99, includes one year of updates)
You’ve probably heard of the Zagat Restaurant Guide, at least in its print incarnation, and for good reason: Zagat reviews are widely used and well respected. Having Zagat to Go on your iPad can help ensure that you’ll never suffer through another bad meal just because you didn’t know the area well enough to choose a good restaurant. Like the others covered here, Zagat to Go uses your location and shows the closest dining options. Tap any of the Z Map pins to get basic information about the restaurant, including a ratings snapshot and capsule reviews. You can narrow down the available choices by tapping on the icons at the bottom left corner of the screen, so that the app will show only your favorites or recently viewed restaurants.
If you’re in the mood for a certain type of cuisine or a particular neighborhood, tap on the magnifying glass at the top left corner of the screen to narrow down your search options. If you want to browse based on food, decor, or service ratings instead of by location, choose the appropriate icon in the bottom center of the screen to switch between map and restaurant views. No matter which view you use, tapping on a restaurant’s name will bring up more detailed information, including the cuisine, address and phone number, web site, hours of operation, features, and accolades.
Zagat to Go for iPad offers offline access, which is great news if you don’t have a 3G iPad and you can’t find a Wi-Fi hotspot nearby. Unfortunately coverage can be somewhat spotty. There were plenty of choices in my hometown, but when I switched my location to Nashville just to see if any of my favorites were listed, there were only five entries. I know that Nashville can’t possibly compete with New York or Chicago when it comes to fine dining, and the city doesn’t have its own Zagat guide in printed form, but it was still a surprise. If you happen to be a major metropolitan area Zagat to Go is a good choice, but it doesn’t have the breadth of options found in apps like UrbanSpoon.