DishUp App Takes Visually Appealing Approach to Restaurant Discovery

If a startup could be assembled from a list of things Millennials like, Detroit-based food tech company DishUp might be the result.

DishUp’s food discovery app incorporates the ubiquitous meal close-ups that people love to post on social media sites; users swipe left or right a la Tinder to make their choices; and the DishUp app lets hungry diners search for food based on a pre-set list of “cravings,” like pizza or sushi, that are represented on the app’s screen by emoji-like icons. If fun is what DishUp is after, it seems the company has a good start.

DishUp launched about five months ago, and a beta version of its app has been available in the iOS app store for roughly two months. “We noticed apps for sites like Yelp and Open Table were lacking good, quality visuals,” said Brandon Helderop, DishUp’s co-founder. “So we flipped it upside down to focus our site around the meals and the images of meals.”

As for why DishUp chose to make photographs of food front and center in its app, Helderop said he was inspired by all the food-related Instagram accounts he followed and the restaurant industry’s growing interest in incorporating Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets into marketing efforts. With DishUp, users tap on a photo of, say, a grilled cheese, which brings up menu information on that item along with ordering information. Or, on the cravings side of the app, users can click on icons associated with different foods (pizza, burgers, tacos) to find out which restaurants in the chosen category are nearby.

Helderop has known co-founder Josh Donnelly since kindergarten. The two were originally trying to develop a line management app for restaurant kitchens, which eventually evolved into DishUp. “I’m just a huge foodie, and Josh is too,” Helderop said.

They also had a mutual dislike for typical online menu offerings, particularly from huge listing and review sites like Yelp. “You just never knew what you were going to get,” he said. “Sometimes the links didn’t work; sometimes the information was wrong or outdated. So we started thinking, what if you could create a smart menu that helps people decide what to order?”

Initially, Helderop said, DishUp curated its photos from social media users. From there, DishUp would contact the restaurants where the curated photos were taken and try to sign them up as a formal client. Today, about 100 restaurants participate in the DishUp app, and most of them now supply their own photos.

DishUp’s inaugural market is within a 50-mile radius of the Motor City, with heavy restaurant representation in downtown Detroit and Royal Oak. The app features restaurants that range from no-frills pizzerias to upscale fine-dining and farm-to-table bistros.

DishUp is considering a number of ways to monetize the app. Helderop imagines a future where users will click on a banner inside the app belonging to a restaurant sponsor and be taken straight to the restaurant’s menu instead of a landing page. DishUp’s creators have also built an application programming interface (API), leaving open the possibility of collaborations someday with Yelp, Open Table, and other restaurant-related apps.

“We’re looking to explore partnerships to integrate our API into their apps,” he explained. “That’s our long-term approach.”

There are currently three people on the DishUp team—all of them co-founders and co-CEOs—and everything so far has been bootstrapped. However, in 2016, Helderop said, he expects to seek outside funding.

DishUp is also considering new features to add to the app in the coming year, including user profiles, coupons, and allowing restaurants to do their own updates or change menus on the fly. The plan is to build up the app in the initial metro Detroit market and then slowly expand to other cities.

“We’re trying to keep up with all the new restaurants opening in Detroit,” Helderop added. “It’s exciting, and we want to piggy-back on the momentum here right now.”

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