A technology start-up hopes its new iPhone and Android app will piggyback on the popularity of restaurant review sites like Yelp, but by focusing not on the restaurant but on the food itself.

Nosh, an app released by Firestarter Labs last week, lets users rate and review individual menu items within a restaurant and share their experiences with friends and followers on their social networks.

Craig Walker, CEO and founder of Firestarter Labs, says Nosh “puts more power into diners’ hands” by letting them comment on menu items and browse a new menu with the help of other users’ feedback.

“Plenty of times you find yourself at a new restaurant, and you’ll find that first question on your mind is, ‘What is good here?’” Walker says. “We really wanted to solve that problem.”

After downloading the free app to their smartphones, customers must register with Nosh, which already has more than 150,000 menus and 10 million menu items in its database. The app locates the customer if they’re at a restaurant and pulls up that establishment’s menu, if it’s in the database.

The user can then see what kind of feedback others users have given certain menu items, as well as browse the menu by highest-rated menu item, lowest-rated menu item, and so on. They can also review their own meals, rate them on a scale of one to five stars, take a picture, and even post their reviews on Twitter or Facebook.

Walker says Nosh will help restaurant operators perfect their menus without having to go through the slow and unreliable method of customer surveys.

“Restaurants are dying for a conversation with their users, and being able to find out, ‘What did you like? What didn’t you like?’” he says. “The problem is that a lot of the comments or feedback that those users give [on existing review sites like Yelp] … is so spectacular or so terrible that they’ll actually go out of their way to make a scene about it.”

Walker says Nosh will give restaurants more of a fair chance than other review sites because it doesn’t actually rate the restaurant itself.

“One bad [Nosh review] doesn’t drive away all of their business, but someone going and writing a scathing review on a Yelp-type site actually does have a negative impact,” he says.

Firestarter Labs is working to create a portal for restaurant owners so they can keep their menus current, Walker says. He says the company will continue to add to the app’s functionality, and will eventually include more local features so users can browse the best menu items in their city.

In the meantime, Walker says, he hopes Nosh will “improve the overall quality of industry.”

“Getting feedback on what’s working and what isn’t and what people like and what they don’t is super helpful,” he says. “The tools restaurants have to get that feedback is very limited.”

By Sam Oches

Consumer Trends, News