If you haven’t looked at your iCal (s aapl) recently, we’re less than a week away from Valentine’s Day. If you haven’t made your dining plans yet, time’s running out. Pull out your iPhone, and let’s look at apps that will help you with your culinary plans.
Zagat is one of the best-known sources for finding the best restaurant for any special night. Zagat’s printed guide is what your parents or grandparents used before they had the Internet, and initially I was skeptical of an iPhone app based on such an outdated and analog approach. However, I’m glad I took a look. Zagat to Go ($9.99) is perfect for finding a great place to eat. Restaurants are ranked on a 0-30 scale based on food, decor and service. Each entry includes key data about the restaurant such as price, location and features, and when applicable, the website and a link to OpenTable to make a reservation. In select metro markets such as New York, Paris and San Francisco, the app walks you through a series of questions to find the perfect restaurant based on scenarios such as (using a type of date as an example) first date, “dating,” anniversary or break-up. One downside of Zagat is that there are very few entries for smaller cities.
For information junkies looking for crowd-sourced reviews, the Yelp (Free) app is the market leader. Yelp is especially good in smaller and medium-sized cities where apps like Zagat’s don’t have much of a presence. In big cities, Yelp’s information can be simply overwhelming. One of San Francisco’s famous restaurants, The Slanted Door, had over 2000 detailed reviews. Light reading anyone? In my hometown market of Kansas City, with reviews numbering in two- to three-digit range, the app was much more useful. Since it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose here.
Alternatively, UrbanSpoon (Free) and Google Places (Free) aggregate information from multiple sources in order to help you make a balanced choice about where to dine. They give you a general score, then allow you to drill down to detailed reviews from other restaurant sites and even local food blogs. Google Places is location-based, as the name suggests. It’s best for “what’s nearby” rather than as an advanced research tool to find the ideal place to eat. UrbanSpoon has location-based options, but also allows you to browse places not nearby as well as adding additional search criteria such as type of food, vegetarian, gluten-free, and so on.
If you want more specialized selections than even UrbanSpoon provides, there are diet-specific dining apps such VegOut ($2.99 — vegan and vegetarian), Kosher ($4.99 — Kosher dining) and CeliacFeed (Free — gluten-free). Not only will you pick a great place to eat, but you’ll get bonus points for considering your Valentine’s specific dining requirements!
Whichever app you use, it’s time to start your research now as restaurants fill up quickly for Valentine’s Day. Of course, these apps work great year-round, so there’s never a bad time to take that special someone out to eat with your iPhone! If you find Valentine’s Day dinners too overwhelming, my personal tip is go to lunch instead of dinner. Slipping out of your busy day to spend time with the person you care about is very rewarding — and reservations are much easier to get.
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