Foodspotting is launching a new feature today that allows restaurants to promote themselves to hungry locals and also provides one of the first big opportunities for the startup to make money.
Co-founder and CEO Alexa Andrzejewski said that the app’s development has had three distinct stages. First, it needed to recruit the “foodspotters” themselves, namely the people who want to share photos of their favorite dishes. Then, with the redesign in February, the company tried to expand beyond the foodspotters to “food seekers” by making it easier to rate food and browse dish recommendations. Now the company is starting phase three — “connnecting foodspotters and food seekers with restaurants.”
Foodspotting has experimented with the idea of user contests in the past, but Andrzejewski said the new initiative provides “a unified system and a currency for rewarding Foodspotting users.” Now, when those users click on the “specials” tab, they can see a list of dishes that they’ll receive points for photographing and sharing in the app. Then they can redeem those points for rewards, such as cash, Foodspotting merchandise, iPhone photography accessories from Photojojo, and gift cards from Giftly.
For the holiday rewards program, the Foodspotting team chose which dishes to highlight and the company is paying for the rewards. Ultimately, the goal is to move into a sponsorship model, where restaurants pay to encourage people to try out new dishes. (Those restaurants are looking for promotional methods beyond daily deals, which arguably devalue their reputation, Andrzejewski said. Plus, with Foodspotting’s rewards, users aren’t just trying the dishes but also promoting them to their friends.) The rewards are limited to San Francisco for now, but the company plans to expand the program after it gets the initial results.
Andrzejewski added that it’s important to maintain the objectivity of Foodspotting’s recommendations, so the company will tweak the algorithm as necessary to make sure that non-sponsored dishes show up, too (for example, if you earn rewards for sharing a dish, then your recommendation might be weighted less). She also said that photos that earned reward points will be marked as such, which both creates transparency and also encourages other users to try the rewards program.
Since the February redesign, Foodspotting interactions have quadrupled, Andrzejewski said. The app has now been downloaded 3.6 million times, it sees about 2 million monthly sessions, and users have shared 2.5 million photos.