Too many dinner options? This app helps you narrow the field

by Andreas Rekdal
August 4, 2017

Have you ever found yourself looking for a cool new restaurant, only to become trapped in an hourlong spiral of indecision that ultimately leads to eating frozen pizza at home?

Um, us neither.

But if you have friends who struggle with indecision, they might want to check out Sugr — a Chicago startup that uses machine learning to recommend new restaurants, bars and events.

Founder and CEO Ruben Flores Martinez said Sugr was born out of his own struggles to break out of his bubble.

“The incredible access to information that we have today sometimes makes the simplest decisions take way too long,” he said. “You can search anything you want, but it takes a long time to sift through thousands of results so we usually end up staying in the same box.”

Unlike traditional discovery services like Yelp or Google Places, Sugr only presents users with a handful of options based on location, budget, cuisine and desired vibe. It also factors in the options you and others like you have picked in the past.

“It’s basically a very simple neural network,” said Martinez. “The more you use it, the better it gets at predicting what you’ll like.”

Once you’ve picked a place, you can invite your friends and family to meet you there. Martinez said his team is also working on functionality that would let multiple users provide input into the process to help Sugr find an option everyone can agree on.

While its matching algorithm is designed to offer up new options, Sugr doesn’t exclude places the user has visited in the past. Martinez said that’s important, because sometimes a place you visit often might legitimately be the best option. Moreover, repeat visits can help the app find similar places in different neighborhoods.

But one functionality Sugr doesn’t have is written reviews — and that’s by design.

“The power of online reviews lead to a lot of negativity,” said Martinez. “Instead, we want to validate preferences based on what your peers are doing. What my wife thinks is a lot more important than what a random stranger on the internet thinks. So we weigh recommendations based on what people in your networks are doing.”

Martinez believes consumers will be willing to forgo detailed insights in favor of a more streamlined user experience.

Designed to support the local economy, Sugr does not feature national chain establishments, Martinez said. The app is free for consumers, and Martinez said he is exploring monetization options like sponsored drink promotions and recommendations.

“We think of it as a local engagement billboard,” he said. “We want to create incentives that are sponsored by major brands but redeemable at local businesses.”


Images via Sugr.

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