You’re in a new town. You’re craving Sichuan. But have you ever searched for a Sichuan restaurant on Yelp? It can be a pretty horrible experience. Your inevitably inundated with opinions, a useless, 3ish-star average from people who despise anything but greasy-bagged sweet and sour chicken mixed with first-generation Chinese Americans who are arguing about the subtleties of China’s regional cuisine.
All the while, you just need to find something to eat.
Menu and Hours may be the smartest restaurant app ever created. It’s a directory of over 100 restaurants across Louisville, Kentucky (sorry, nowhere else yet). And rather than giving you tales about slow waiters during bachelorette parties, it offers the two things that matter most about any restaurant: Its menu, and its hours.
“When I had tried so many other food apps and decided that what I wanted really didn’t exist, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t the only person who considered this a problem worth solving. So I sent out a lot of surveys and asked a lot of people in person what information they wanted about restaurants when they were searching on their phone,” explains developer Michelle Jones. “Overwhelmingly, people told me they wanted to know when a restaurant is open and what do they have to eat.
“The results of that research actually gave the app its title. I put together a word cloud of all the responses to the survey and it had many small words and two huge ones: Menu and Hours,” says Jones. (Note: She lost that word cloud, but she did keep another of what people hated.)
The interface is notably devoid of superfluous icons or pretty food pictures. “Photos weren’t something people were asking for,” Jones maintains, “they wanted information.” So instead, Menu and Hours greets you with a simple list of food types, like BBQ or Deli. Clicking one leads to a small list of restaurants. Clicking a restaurant leads to, you guessed it, the menu and hours. (Plus, there’s a one-button option to get directions there.)
You can also search by Google Maps proximity, or very interestingly, by menu item. Despite a staff of just one, Jones actually contacted every restaurant featured in her database, building each menu to be indexed by search. So much like GrubHub allows you to search for a delivered food item, Menu and Hours can satisfy a particular craving in person. The other bonus of that hand-coded menu is that it’s available in simple text, not the obnoxiously overwrought (yet impossibly hard to read) PDF-sourced graphics that seem to stuff Yelp’s menu database.
If all of these search options feel downright useful, it’s only because they are. While apps like Urbanspoon are designed with a gimmick at the core--a like button, restaurant randomizer…a way someone might want to interact with something--Menu and Hours is scaffolded around the root functions it’s meant to serve, to give someone very specific data. And at the end of the day, pretty pictures are nice, but that discernibility of information is always what’s most important.