Once the quarantines had started to lift in the summer of 2020, we returned to restaurants for the first time in months. We love dining out, and it was comforting to once again frequent our favorite restaurants. There was, however, one major change: QR codes were everywhere — most notably they had replaced the paper menus. I was excited to scan the QR code with my and see what this new era of menus would look like. Time after time, a hard-to-read PDF replica of the paper menu (!) popped up on my phone completely with small text, sparse descriptions, and unfamiliar ingredients. I’ll repeat, you open your phone, scan a QR code, get taken to a website, open a PDF…which is just a picture of a piece of paper!
The idea for Plaza was born. Plazas were historically a town square often filled with vendors selling food and showing off their goods. We want to bring that to the digital world.
Pictures + Videos = 🤤
There are incredible pictures and videos of food everywhere you look these days, but most of the information about restaurants is still text based. Menus, reviews, ratings, and food websites are still heavy on text and light on pictures and videos. This does not make sense to me — people have visceral reactions to images of food. Its rare that you can trigger an automatic, system one response (drooling) from just looking at a picture of a product, yet there is still text everywhere in the food world. Note: if a picture is worth a thousand words then a video is worth (literally) a thousand pictures. Check out some of these amazing videos.
That’s not to say that some restaurants aren’t trying. I experienced this myself early on during quarantine when I saw an ad in my Instagram feed for an AMAZING looking surf-and-turf burrito (the picture below is the actual ad I saw).
I clicked the ad, ended up ordering it, and have been back to that same restaurant at least 15 times since (that is not an exaggeration, although I have tried other things on the menu). It seemed so obvious and effective, but my Instagram feed ads have returned to a slew of e-commerce products I have no interest in buying.
It is quite common these days for people to search online for pictures of menu items either before they go to the restaurant or at the restaurant before they order. These pictures exist in all sorts of different forms all around the internet, but are often disorganized, hard-to-find, and inconsistent. Plaza brings all those photos and video into one place, organizes them, and makes the information easy to find and navigate.
Pictures and videos are our building blocks and the picture menu is the centerpiece of our product, but not the only feature. Having pictures enables a host of other features that will help restaurants connect with their customers.
The first feature is very simple. Once our users see something that they like on the menu, they can tap a button to link out to their favorite delivery app or reservation service. We know how intoxicating the pictures and videos are in our app, and so we make it as easy as possible for our customers to order online or reserve a table.
When I open up Netflix, I sometimes spend longer looking for a show to watch than I end up actually watching that show. The same thing happens with the delivery apps. I scroll through endless pages of restaurants, paralyzed with indecision by the fantastic array of options. Even when I’m trying to decide where to dine out, I often just click around on the map, grasping for a starting point.
We simplify this process with our feed. The feed uses a bottoms-up approach; instead of showing restaurants, it shows one menu item at a time. You can quickly swipe through through items or tap into the restaurant page to see more. For users that are signed in, the feed will adapt to their tastes and show more items similar to what they have enjoyed in the past (based on time of day, location, and more).
Scores and ratings for individual dishes are an important feature that we will add as well. Similar to Netflix, we want the scores to be relevant to individual users and not just an average of every user. Personalization and relevancy are key for us when recommending dishes or restaurants.
Save for Later
Scrolling through the feed, I would often see so many different things that looked delicious, but I could never remember them later. So we created lists as a simple way to stay organized. Adding to lists makes it simple find items later and is fun to share with friends so they can see what you like. Adding to lists also helps improve the feed by providing information about what you like.
Plaza is still brand new. We launched the current site just over a month ago and right now it just has restaurants in Los Angeles. In the next few months we will be expanding to more cities, launch a mobile app, and release a bunch of new features. I can’t wait to share more about the features that we’re building, and I will write about them here.
Our immediate goal is to make Plaza the first place you go when you’re trying to figure out what you want to eat. Browsing online has never been easy, most sites are designed to provide information once you have a destination in mind. We want to evoke the plazas of the past: a fun place to browse and find something that looks good to YOU, not just something you read about.
Please feel free to write us with any questions, thoughts, or ideas for Plaza: firstname.lastname@example.org