Finding Food Worth Your Money
Going out for a fancy dinner and getting only so-so food and horrible service can be a big disappointment, especially when you’re watching your budget. One of the best ways to find out what to expect at a restaurant is by researching it before you go. Here are 10 helpful sites where consumers and critics review restaurants nationwide.
Photo Credit: avlxyz
Description: Compared to many other Web sites, Yelp provides information on restaurants beyond the basics, including a map, hours of operation, whether they take credit cards and dress code. Plus, Yelp has a strong social networking aspect and consumer reviews of restaurants nationwide. As of November, the site has 8 million reviews and 26 million visitors, says spokeswoman Chantelle Karl.
Best feature: Beyond using your computer, there are five other ways users can access the resource: Yelp’s mobile site and Yelp apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre and Android. A million iPhone users alone accessed Yelp on their phones, Karl says.
Savings: In addition to saving time and being able to access restaurant and other business information on the go, there’s a new feature on Yelp called Sales and Specials Near You, which you can access from the home page.
Photo Credit: Yelp
Description: On Chowhound, you can search for restaurants by region, search restaurants by cuisine type, read message boards on local venues and even get recipes for delicious and in-season dishes, drinks and desserts you can make at home.
Best feature: The Nagging Questions section under the site’s Stories tab provides questions and answers that food-lovers will appreciate, like:
- Can You Get Mad Cow Disease from Eating Bone Marrow?
- Why Does Spinach Leave a Film on Your Teeth?
- What’s the Difference Between a Digestif and an Apéritif?
Savings: By providing recipes, people who like to cook can make new and different restaurant-quality meals at home, which can be significantly cheaper than going out.
Photo Credit: Chowhound
Description: Urbanspoon provides basic restaurant information, a menu if available and links to a ton of other write-ups including reviews from critics, posts from bloggers and comments from Urbanspoon users.
Best feature: Urbanspoon asks users a simple question about each institution. Do you like it or not? The percentage of people who do is displayed prominently on each restaurant’s page.
Savings: Most menus linked to from Urbanspoon’s site have prices, so you know about how much you’ll be shelling out before you go.
Photo Credit: Urbanspoon
Description: Restaurant.com is a MainStreet favorite. Though some of the restaurant descriptions are generic, and might appear bare-boned compared to other sites, there’s a promise of significant savings if you’re planning an outing to one of the restaurants participating in the Restaurant.com program.
Best feature: In time for the holidays, Restaurant.com has reintroduced its “Feed it Forward” program which lets users send $10 restaurant gift certificates to 30 friends free thanks to its sponsors. The benefit for them is the future business they can get from your friends.
Savings: The site sells $25 gift certificates for $10, and as low as $3 when there’s a sale. Participating restaurants let you use it just like cash, though usually some restrictions apply. For example, some require you order a minimum of two entrees and drinks may not be covered.
Photo Credit: Restaurant.com
Description: Citysearch (Stock Quote: IACI) prominently features the most popular restaurants, along with bars, spas and local events in 75,000 neighborhoods nationwide. Mobile by Citysearch application include calendar and e-mail integration and Twitter functionality that enables users to tweet reviews and tips to followers instantly.
Best feature: The Citysearch mobile app for BlackBerry smart phones integrates with your phone’s calendar and e-mail.
Savings: Another good feature is the Tip Calculator and Split the Bill tool so you don’t get stuck paying more than you owe.
Photo Credit: Citysearch
Description: Don’t be deterred by its use of a 20-point French grading system for restaurants. Gayot, (pronounced guy-OH,) highlights some of the cheaper restaurant listings as well as fine dining establishments and judges them not just by the food, décor and service, but the ambience and wine list as well.
Best feature: Famous foodie interviews. Gayot’s Interviews section of the Restaurants tab on its home page includes Q&As with some of the most well-known chefs, restaurant owners, wine experts and celebrities.
Savings: Living the good life may still be affordable thanks to listings of cheap places to eat and recommendations for the best bottles of wine under $10.
Photo Credit: Gayot
Description: This site isn’t just used to reserve a table for special events at fine-dining establishments. You can also use OpenTable to search for restaurants nationwide and abroad based on whether they’re good for large groups, open late and most romantic, among other considerations.
Best feature: Easy to make and confirm reservations.
Savings: You can find a restaurant, book a time and a table and have your reservation confirmed in no time. And there’s no fee for the service.
Photo Credit: OpenTable
Description: Dine.com is a browsable, searchable resource with a social networking element as well. Unlike many other restaurant research sites, Dine.com has pages on restaurants from all 50 states.
Best feature: If your favorite restaurant isn’t on here, you can add it. If you own a restaurant, you can build your own Web site free through Dine.com.
Savings: Users often give their own recommendations, and when it’s cheap, they’ll be sure to say so.
Photo Credit: Dine.com
Description: Many towns have Web sites devoted to dining locally, like the Twin Cities Dining Guide for Minneapolis and St. Paul. Reviews are written by locals with similar sensibilities.
Best feature: Restaurants are often closed on holidays, leaving some of those who don’t want to cook out of luck. But the Twin Cities guide lists restaurants that are open on specific holidays.
Savings: Some local Web sites, like the Kansas City Restaurant Guide, offer printable coupons for local restaurants.
Photo Credit: Twin Cities Dining Guide
Description: Zagat is one of the most well-known resources for restaurant information, but you have to subscribe to get access to its ratings and reviews for at least $2.08 per month.
Best feature: Recently Closed listings. It can be pretty embarrassing to bring a date to a restaurant that no longer exists, especially if there are no other good restaurants in the area.
Savings: If you’re very particular about quality of food and service and you dine out frequently, Zagat ratings may be worth the money. Plus, the Web site’s Events and Deals section for select cities is accessible to nonmembers as well.
Photo Credit: Zagat