Seeking to Connect With Restaurants, Foodspotting Launches ‘Rewards’

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While a number of apps allow users to rate restaurants, leave comments, and create a map of what’s nearby, San Francisco-based Foodspotting focuses its attention on the food itself — and on helping food seekers find the specific dish they want nearby. With a new “rewards” launch, the company plans to tweak that model even more, seeking to build loyalty connections between food seekers and the restaurants that serve the dishes they love.

Street Fight recently spoke with Foodspotting founder and CEO Alexa Andrzejewski about the company’s push into local marketing, and the app’s place in the local discovery ecosystem.

Foodspotting is launching a new “rewards” feature in December for San Francisco restaurants. How will it work, and how do you see it scaling out?
We’re launching this holiday rewards program in San Francisco, which is a pilot of the idea of Foodspotting offering rewards in general. The idea is to make taking picture of your food (and not just that, but talking about and sharing the great dishes you’ve had at a restaurant) more rewarding to the users. But, also to test this idea of promoting certain businesses and seeing if we can drive people to try certain businesses because of the reward. So for the San Francisco pilot, we basically picked 70 restaurants. Some were our team favorites, but we were also just trying to pick some restaurants in every neighborhood in San Francisco, from really well-known to lesser-known ones. And if user spot [and photograph] a dish at one of those restaurants, they’ll earn rewards points. At the end of December they cash in those points for either cash back or rewards. … We see this as a pilot for something a lot bigger.

Foodspotting has been very user-focused so far. Is your end goal to become a marketing platform for merchants?
When merchants know about Foodspotting, they really appreciate the audience. Foodspotting is only the positives, so people are only recommending things that they love. It’s people who love food and it’s a great community that local businesses, restaurants, food businesses and brands really want to reach.

We tried a number of things over the years to help brands and businesses reach food seekers, doing one-off campaigns and contests and things like that. But this, really, is a more unified system where any merchant could potentially offer these points. The merchants and brands that we’ve talked to have been really excited about this idea of offering these points as a way to reach this audience without discounting — and that was a really important distinction —they’re offering a reward not a discount. … The merchants that we talk to are really craving something new and that’s more sustainable then the daily deals and we feel like the positive rewards model is that it’s rewarding you instead of discounting.

Foodspotting also got a redesign this year. What’s new?
We’ve had kind of three main themes over the years. When we first started out, we started with zero content, so our focus was on creating and identity and a brand around food spotting [as an activity]. Over the course of the year we realized that not everybody was taking pictures of food — in fact more people were using it to find and discover food.

Our focus this last year has been on helping food seekers get themselves all that information. Our goal has been slice and dice all the information and find the best dishes for them wherever they go.

So even though your basis is this visual, taking photos of the food you like in your area, would you say your goal is more about connecting food lovers with local restaurants?
I think a lot of people think of, or pigeonhole, Foodspotting as a food photo sharing app. But the original idea was really more of an app for rating dishes instead of just restaurants. The visual aspect, we kind of stumbled into that because at the same time as we were doing that we realized there was no dish database of all the best dishes at restaurants, but there are already people taking pictures of their food so we thought what if we could harness those people to create the best visual local guide ever by getting them to go out and catalog the best food everywhere in the world. Our goal from the start has been to be a visual local guide.

What’s coming up in the next year for Foodspotting? What are you planning to do to expand the app and its focus and function?
We have three main themes. The first was food spotters; this past year has been food seekers; and this next year we see connecting those food spotters and seekers with merchants and restaurants. So, again we have a number of ideas up our sleeves for what that might look like and we have spent the last couple of months talking to merchants and understanding their needs.

Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.