via Foursquare Houston

Sometimes deciding where to go for lunch can be the most difficult decision one faces all day. Day after day, picking a place for lunch becomes such a hassle you pass the decision from coworker to coworker like a hot potato. Mmm… did someone say potato?

No more schlepping it to that crappy lunch joint just because the guy in accounting has a crush on the waitress. Here are three different methods foursquare can pick your next meal. My foursquare lunch experiment: try a product that uses foursquare, go to the recommended venue no matter what and report back.

Method #1: via email

Where Next?! is a service that sends an email to you based upon your last check-in and suggests where to eat lunch.

 

What Next app

Pros:

  • You can customize the specific days and the time you’d like to receive the suggestions.
  • The email contains five different venues.
  • The recommendations are based on distance, popularity amongst friends, popularity on foursquare and venue check-in patterns (people who checked in at a place you frequent also frequent this place).
  • Specials are highlighted, but I’m not sure if they are weighed in the recommendation.
  • Likelihood of me using it is higher since it’s sent to my inbox and no further activity is required on my end.

Cons:

  • When I first signed up for Where’s Next?! it took a while for the emails to actually start. It seems the kinks have been worked out now, because whenever I make changes to the settings, it’s responsive. Be patient, grasshopper.
  • Just because a place is popular doesn’t mean it is good. And if a venue is too busy, you waste your precious hour waiting in line.
  • It’ll recommend a place you’ve been to often (perhaps too often?). I guess Where Next?! is attempting to throw in at least one ‘safe’ recommendation in case the others are duds.
  • Unclear if it takes into account my personal behavior – I don’t eat fast food, I prefer locally-owned businesses, I don’t like Thai food, etc.
  • It often recommends a cupcake shop near my work, which really shouldn’t be my lunch – wait, is this a con?

My experience: Monday I used Where’s Next?! and my polite email came in right on time. The very first option was a sandwich shop I had never been to, but 3 of my foursquare friends had. People who checked into restaurants I’ve checked into had also checked into this sandwich shop, and it was popular on foursquare in general.  Although parking was abysmal, I found it a solid lunch choice and probably somewhere I would return.

Method #2: via third party app

Having an Android phone, my options were a bit limited. I would like to try Dine-O-Mat, but since that wasn’t possible, I settled for foodSquare. (image from foursquare)

FoodSquare Screenshot

Pros:

  • Lists eateries around  you via distance and check-ins.
  • You can type in another location from which to search.
  • You can shake your phone and get a random suggestion.

Cons:

  • At the time, it was very slow and didn’t have my current location (it thought I was at home and not at work).
  • It only rates places by distance and check-ins, no other qualities.
  • It seems to be missing a lot of venues.
My experience: Tuesday I used FoodSquare and chose the closest place by distance (when I finally got it to work), which was the café in my building. It was raining and I hadn’t been there recently, so it was an amicable choice. There is also a very nasty deli near my building, so I’m glad I was saved from that fate. Choosing a place solely by distance or popularity isn’t something I’m looking for in a recommendation app. Lunch itself ended up being a tad disappointing, the café totally advertised pistachio gelato on their daily prix fixe menu but at the end of my meal I was served raspberry mocha. First world problems.
Method #3: via the foursquare website

Foursquare.com got a makeover at the end of last year; now when you visit and allow foursquare to see your current location, you get suggestions based on the Explore engine. [Edit:  Now with the new foursquare Explore (released today!), this is out of date. It looks like new website Explore is the ultimate in lunchtime recommendations. ~nb]

foursquare.com suggestions

Pros:

  • Suggestions are time sensitive
  • Based on the Explore engine – so there are places that are popular, places your friends have been to and places like those you frequent
  • Suggestions seem unique; perhaps it’s because I visit the website so often, but I discover places I never knew existed (unlike Where’s Next?!)

Cons:

  • None, really. Maybe one – you get that little pop-up when you go on the site to do anything.

My experience: Wednesday at noonish I visited the foursquare.com homepage and awaited the first of three suggestions. Foursquare recommended a Mexican restaurant I hadn’t been to that I really wanted to try. When I got there and checked in – I leveled up on the Hot Tamale badge AND unlocked the Eater 38 badge! Huzzah! The tacos were excellent, too.

Conclusion: I will continue to rely on the Explore engine for recommendations until something better comes along [Edit: it’s arrived! that was fast, foursquare! ~nb]. I am still subscribed to my Where’s Next?! emails and even if I don’t open them every day, it’s always good to have some options when the inevitable question arises… “Where are we eating today?”

 

My question to you: Is there something you use for lunch recommendations?

 

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