This is the time of year that manufacturers (especially Apple) like to release new products in time for the holiday season, in the hope of capturing a goodly share of holiday spending for things like new Apple watches, iPhones, etc. Normally, I would talk about those things in my Road Warrior column, but I will make an exception this year. Ashley Hallene and I will talk about them at great length in our 2017 Tech Gift Guide (page 36), which frees up this column to talk about something more closely related to the theme of this issue of the magazine: food!
Some of you might wonder what food has to do with working as a Road Warrior. Likely those wondering this have not had much experience as a Road Warrior. Simply put, they say an army travels on its stomach. I say, I don’t concern myself with the travel arrangements for an army, but a Road Warrior travels on his or her stomach. I have spent many years traveling to far-off parts of the United States and hither and yon in the world at large. In each place, what to eat and where to eat it has come up as an issue of some significance. This fact remains true without regard to whether I travel for business, for pleasure, to teach a class, or in connection with the volunteer work that I do and have done for many years.
Accordingly, I will talk to you about some of the technology that goes (or can go) into the Road Warrior’s food choices and decision making. All I am going to say about smartphones, tablets, and laptops in this article is that you need to have one and an Internet connection to take advantage of most of the technology available to help Road Warriors and travelers locate good restaurants likely to please their palate when they find themselves in a location that they do not know well.
The apps discussed in this article work with both Apple (Apple’s new iOS App Store) or Android (Google Play Store) devices, both phones and tablets. In most cases, the apps also have websites accessible from laptops or other devices that can operate browsers, such as tablets and smartphones. A word of advice: If you can, use a phone or tablet and avail yourself of the app version of most of these sites—the app generally works more easily and better than using the browser.
I am only going to talk about four apps: OpenTable, Zagat, Resy, and Yelp. These are the four I use the most, and I use OpenTable and Zagat about 80 percent of the time, perhaps even more with OpenTable as I almost always make my reservations using that app.
OpenTable (opentable.com). OpenTable has served me well over the years. I have used it pretty much since it started and have found any number of excellent restaurant choices through its network. In most cases, I can also make dinner reservations through the site (or the app), so it works as a one-stop shop. OpenTable identifies restaurants by geography (how close they are to you), cuisine, and cost. It generally provides a fair summary of the cuisine and the style of the restaurant. In many cases it will make a summary and a more complete menu available to allow you to see what the restaurant serves. It also includes customer reviews of the restaurant, addressing food quality, service, and atmosphere. OpenTable also has a loyalty program that lets you earn coupons for discounted prices on future meals. The system awards you points for each reservation that you make and honor through the system (make sure you check in with the restaurant on the reservation, even if it is sufficiently empty that you likely did not need one). Usually you get 100 points per reservation, but often they have bonus arrangements that award 1,000 points for a particular reservation. OpenTable lists an incredible number of restaurants, mostly in the United States, but also in countries throughout the world (although generally not as many). For example, during a recent trip to Greece, I found three listings in Athens. By comparison, New York has what appear to be a few hundred listings. Not surprisingly, major urban areas get most of the listings, but don’t hesitate to check in a smaller area. I actually have found some of my favorite restaurants using OpenTable.
Zagat (zagat.com). Zagat has been around long enough that it has grown into a trusted institution respecting rating restaurants. Zagat rates eating establishments throughout the United States (unfortunately, the app does not yet support international use). The Zagat app (iOS and Android versions) helps you find restaurants that suit your tastes. It includes ratings and reviews by customers and curated by editors. Zagat’s app does not limit itself to restaurants that have earned Zagat ratings. It does, however, tell you which restaurants have achieved this distinction. Although I would never suggest that you limit yourself only to Zagat-rated restaurants, I will tell you that these restaurants have proven universally good, in my experience. I do not recall getting a bad meal at a Zagat-rated restaurant. Additionally, the app generally has more information about Zagat-rated restaurants than it does about the others it lists. The app gives you contact information and can link to maps to provide you the location and directions. It also can provide, in many cases, the menu (including prices), allowing you to verify that the cuisine is likely to prove as you want it. Zagat does not make reservations for you directly; it prefers to leave this to OpenTable. In fact, when you click on the reservations button in the Zagat app, it wants to transfer you to the OpenTable app to make the reservation. If you allow it to do that, it will go to OpenTable, open the app, and take you to the right page, including the information and ratings accumulated by OpenTable. The two apps generally work seamlessly together, and their restaurant ratings pretty much agree with each other, in my experience.
Resy (resy.com). Resy is more or less the new kid on the block. It has some serious limitations by comparison to OpenTable, but I think it is worth adding to your phone anyway. Resy has a much more limited geographic functionality than OpenTable and far fewer restaurants. It does, however, list some restaurants that OpenTable does not (the main reason for adding it). It generally provides basic information about the restaurant and a simple 1–5 stars rating; it also provides a number of dollar signs to let you know about pricing. The more dollar signs, the more expensive the restaurant. The app does not make menus or customer reviews available. As its name implies, its primary function is making reservations. The iOS version was designed for the iPhone only. There is no iPad version. The iPhone version will work on the iPad, but it is a less satisfying experience as you either get an iPhone-sized display or you can double it. Even doubled, it leaves a significant portion of the screen unused. I use Resy very infrequently, as I much prefer OpenTable, but I do keep it on my phone to help with the occasional reservation that OpenTable may not handle. Although Resy has some restaurants that Zagat/OpenTable do not (and conversely), the lack of information has not encouraged me to try these restaurants as often.
Yelp (yelp.com). The last app I will discuss in this column is Yelp. It has a somewhat different background and flavor than the others. Yelp includes restaurants in the scope of its operations but, unlike the others, does not limit itself to restaurants. Yelp deals with all sorts of businesses and services, including restaurants. The breadth of its coverage alone justifies the space it takes on your device. I intend the next comment not as a criticism, but simply an observation. Yelp concerns itself more with fast-food establishments than the other apps and, while it provides considerable information about higher-end restaurants, I do not believe it is as good or as accurate as Zagat or OpenTable. By way of example, if you tell Yelp you want a McDonald’s in New York, it will list and rate 19 McDonald’s establishments in the New York area. If you tell OpenTable you want that, the app will arch its eyebrows at you, but that will be the only arch it gives you (and it won’t be golden). Accordingly, if your tastes run toward fast food (or you just want some right then), use Yelp. The Yelp app gives you information about the restaurant and its cuisine, its pricing, and its location. It makes customer reviews available to you as well as detailed information about the menu. In some cases, it even includes photos (often poorly focused) of dishes uploaded by customers for their reviews. Although you can make reservations using the browser version of Yelp, for some reason this feature is not included in the app (or if it is, it’s sufficiently well hidden that I haven’t found it yet). The app does, however, give you the ability to order ahead for takeout or delivery with restaurants that provide this service.
So, if, indeed, the Road Warrior travels on his or her stomach, you now have the tools to ensure that your stomach gets appropriately treated and properly served. If you don’t live on the road, like some of us do, don’t worry—you still can use these same tools to find a good meal when you travel or while in your home city.