An App That Can Tell You Which Restaurants are Open on the UWS — And Much More

A page on whattoorder.

By Carol Tannenhauser

WhatToOrder, a recently released restaurant search app, aims to be the Google of New York City restaurants and the dishes they serve and ingredients they use.

“You can search for any word on any menu in any restaurant in New York City,” explained Rob Fraley, the app’s creator, in a recent phone interview. “For example, ‘wedge salad with bleu cheese and bacon.’ It will only show you results that have all those terms in it.“

But more importantly these days, WhatToOrder will tell you which restaurants are open for takeout and delivery in the area of your actual or desired location. If you enter Upper West Side, you will get a complete list of every restaurant in the neighborhood and its current status.

“We may have missed a few and we didn’t include any restaurants big enough to have apps of their own,” Mr. Fraley said. Still, the list — illustrated with photographs, like stamps in a collection — includes 302 restaurants on the UWS, 143 of which were open at the time of this writing. “It’s not perfect,” Mr. Fraley added, “because it’s changing so quickly, but it’s constantly being updated.” The site menu has a contact link to send questions, problems, and corrections. “We definitely rely on our users to help us keep up to date on openings/closings!”

WhatToOrder is free. Restaurants do not pay for the service either, and are listed solely according to their distance from you.

“So, the little guy gets a shot at being seen,” Mr. Fraley explained. He was careful to emphasize that WhatToOrder is not a “delivery fulfillment site,” but a ”restaurant search engine” that connects you to other delivery and reservation sites that a restaurant already uses. It also provides menus, reviews, and 20 filters, including vegan, gluten-free, and kosher.

A page within.

Mr. Fraley conceived of the app before the pandemic, but when the shutdown came he knew immediately that New Yorkers would need to know what restaurants remained available for pick-up and delivery. So, he activated a feature of the site that allows a restaurant to be marked “temporarily closed,” and began tracking the status of every restaurant every day. He did it, and still does, the old-fashioned way: with a team of data-entry people making phone calls.

“Who’s paying for it?“ you’re probably wondering. The answer, at this point, is Rob Fraley. “I was able to save up some money from my prior career,” he said. While he’s thrilled to serve the city at this critical time, his long-term plan is to sell the data he collects about what people are eating and other food trends to big food companies and restaurant chains as market research. There’s no advertising on the site, so that’s how he’ll hopefully make his money. He promises your privacy will not be compromised in the process.

Click on the link to the WhatToOrder app here. Download the app, enter the type of food or dish you desire, then, your actual or any other location within the city, hit open, and enjoy your search.

By the way, for now, the app works only on a phone, not your desktop computer.

If you want more in-depth information about WhatToOrder, here’s a Q&A provided by Mr. Fraley:

What exactly is WhatToOrder? 

WhatToOrder is an open search engine for finding food and restaurants, and a free and fair distribution channel for restaurants. Users can search by cuisine and location, but also by more specific criteria, like dish name, ingredient combinations, reservation and delivery partners. We also offer 20 dietary and environmental filters like gluten-free, dairy-free, grass-fed and GMO-free.

How does it help small restaurants?

Since search results are displayed strictly by distance, we effectively override the ranking algorithms used by delivery and reservation platforms, review platforms like Yelp, and even Google Maps. This gives every restaurant, no matter how small, a fair opportunity to be seen.

Why launch a restaurant app now?

Preserving the city’s culture of small, independent restaurants was part of our mission long before the lockdown. This is why we list as many restaurants as we can in all five boroughs, including many places that can’t afford to maintain a website. We launched now to give New Yorkers a convenient way to see who’s still open for business, regardless of their neighborhood or whether restaurants near them use third-party delivery platforms.

How do you keep the app up-to-date as restaurants temporarily close?

We use a combination of technology and human-power. We had already been keeping menus up-to-date on our system prior to launch, using software to track and report menu changes, and good old-fashioned brain power and judgement from our content management team to update the app.

Keeping up with temporary closures has, of course, been a challenge, but it’s something we track daily. Input from New Yorkers and restaurants themselves has helped! When we hear of a change, we make it on our system asap, and it shows up on the app within seconds.

What if I live in the outer boroughs?

We include thousands of restaurants across all five boroughs, because WhatToOrder is meant to be a resource for all New Yorkers. We want to know if we have missed any locations, and will rely to some degree on our users to let us know.

Can I still order online?

Yes. You can access any third-party delivery platform that a restaurant uses right from the app. We also have a category called “Other Ordering” that includes the restaurant’s own commission-free online ordering systems for ordering takeout or delivery.

If you want to avoid third-party delivery altogether, you can actually filter your initial search to see only restaurants that have an Other Ordering option. We currently list 578 restaurants that fall into this category, so you should have a good selection of choices no matter where you live.

What else do you want New Yorkers to know?

Our hope is that, if enough people use WhatToOrder in New York City, restaurants will still be able to utilize the services of Seamless, Yelp, OpenTable and other platforms, but won’t need to pay extra in order to be seen – essentially, just buy the basic package, but actually enjoy greater visibility.

For consumers, we’d like them to know that they can have just one single app on their phone that lets them find all the restaurants around them, search their update menus down to the dish and ingredient level, and connect to all of their service providers.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 40 comments | permalink
    1. john says:

      any idea when it will be available for laptops, pcs?

      • Rob says:

        Hi John,

        We are aiming to have web search capabilities in the next couple of months, so you will be able to search menus, but it will take longer to add the ability to filter for restaurants that are open and to add links to the delivery platforms.

        We wanted to see if there was enough interest in doing that, so we appreciate your feedback.

    2. Gordon Smith says:

      Would be even better if he included info on restaurants offering take-out discounts (skip on having Seamless take a cut)

      • Rob says:

        Hi Gordon,

        You can filter for restaurants offering takeout by using the “Other Ordering” filter on the search screen, then choose the Other Ordering option when you get to the restaurant’s page. Unfortunately, restaurants who deal with the large delivery companies are usually contractually prohibited from offering lower prices on takeout vs delivery, even though it would benefit both the restaurant and the customer.

        • Gordon says:

          Interesting to know. I’ve walked past several that have a sandwich board outside offering thinks like 20% off or free bottle of wine with a $50 order. Would be awesome to get visibility on these types of offers in your app.

    3. Manahatta4me says:

      Re: “What if I live in the outer boroughs?”

      Well…..(Jack Benny pause)…they CAN be nice, for ‘zample:
      The Bronx has LOTS of parks, Orchard Beach, and City Island;
      Queens has fabulous ethnic neighborhoods plus great food choices;
      Brooklyn is historic (Dumbo), hip (Williamsburg), and even offers great views of Manhattan;
      And…then there’s Staten Island, which has…ummmmm…errrrr…the ferry, and ummm lots of Trump-supporters?

    4. Mark Moore says:

      I’ll try it just for the gluten free filter, which we need for a celiac in the house. Right now we use FindMeGlutenFree but it’s not a local app and probably misses a lot.

      • Rob says:

        Hi Mark,

        I hope the app helps you find what you need. We have about 12,000 GF menu items and another 5,000 that have a GF option, searchable across the city. One thing you see on menus, and I’m sure you’re acutely aware of this, but the GF tag they add to menu items (which is required for us to mark that menu item as GF) doesn’t always mean it’s suitable for every person with a celiac condition.

    5. Sara says:

      The app seems to have some errors. For example, it shows the Viand on Broadway as open and able to order from using multiple online delivery platforms, but in fact it is not. I wonder what the accuracy rate is on the app?

      • Plops says:

        I agree. I played around with it. I found it more trouble than helpful. Maybe it just needs (a lot) of work.

        • Tom D. says:

          And ditto from me in noting incorrect data. The app is telling me several nearby restaurants are open til 11 or later, but in reality almost everything in my area has been closing between 7 and 9 since last month.

          Also, several places near my apartment that are open for some of the day aren’t listed at all. For example, of the three pizza joints within a 2 block walk, just 1 appears in the listings.

          • Rob says:

            Hi Tom, the reason the hours for some restaurants are off is that we designed the app around the hours of the individual menus, so that you could search for individual dishes by time of day, and day of week. Often restaurants are officially closed between breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we’ve tried to reflect this accurately.

            The shutdown has affected the available times of more than 12,000 menus on our system. Where a restaurant is still open for business, and has posted a temporary menu, we show only that menu and its times.

            Where there is no temporary menu on the site, and only delivery links, we have left the existing menus on our app so that they can still be searched, but must defer to the delivery platforms for the exact availability.

            Our aim was to get the app out as quickly as possible, so that people can at least have some guidance as to what is open when they need it most.

      • Tracie (of WhatToOrder) says:

        Hi Sarah,
        The Viand is now updated. As the article does a good job of explaining, with so many restaurants temporarily closing, we do a lot of manual updates. But as you’ll notice, if you send an alert (or even a comment like this), the updates are made quickly. Thanks for checking it out.

        • Sara says:

          Im sure its hard to keep up to date given the ever changing circumstances. Maybe add a “last updated” note so people automatically know how up to date things are / last time info updated?

          • Rob says:

            Hi Sara, thank you for the suggestion. We are working on a solution right now that would involve adding a “Report” button next to the “Review” button that allows users to more easily report inaccuracies (versus going to the Contact Us option on the main menu). We’re hopeful that making reporting more convenient, we’ll keep restaurant status and other important information up to date.

    6. Lisa says:

      I love this! I’ve wanted to be able to find a way to see quickly how to order directly through restaurants, and not through seamless or similar, especially now when they need every penny. I’ve just played around with the app a bit and it looks great (I understand there will be bugs, to be expected, everyone should be patient). I plan to use this weekend.

      • Rob says:

        Thank you Lisa.

        Hope you are able to find what you’re looking for. If you do find any performance issues, or incorrect information, you can use the Contact Us option in the main menu. We’ll get it corrected asap.

    7. Betsy says:

      Don’t forget REGIONAL!!!! A wonderful neighborhood restaurant. Let’s keep our neighborhood restaurants open!!

      • Rob says:

        Hi Betsy, Regional is on the app, and we have it marked as open, with multiple ordering options. Still, if you see something that doesn’t look right, please let us know. Thank you!

    8. Paula Seefeldt says:

      The app says Brad’s Burgers is temporarily closed. It is OPEN for takeout and delivery.

    9. David says:

      Chirping chicken is open but doesn’t appear on the app. Probably my favorite go to place on the whole UWS.

      • Rob says:

        Hi David, we’ve now added both Chirping Chicken locations on the UWS. We don’t have photos yet, and are working on the menus, but in the meantime, you can connect to all delivery and takeout options for them.

    10. BJK says:

      With hours changing and openings/closings in flux right now, there may be some errors on that front but the ability to search for specific foods on individual menus is an incredibly useful function!

      • Rob says:

        Thank you!

        Right now all of the focus is of course on delivery, but there are thousands of restaurants in NYC that don’t (usually) offer that, and they will hopefully be part of the equation again soon.

        Searching the menus of these restaurants en masse is one area in which we hope WTO will really distinguish itself. There are simply no other apps or websites that allow for dish/ingredient-level search on this scale.

        In the meantime, we’ll continue to offer the most utility we can during this challenging time.

    11. Steve Suskin says:

      Where is the link to the app???

    12. Megan says:

      Please remember to call the restaurant to see if they are open. I just checked some local restaurants near me, some of which state an incorrect open/close status (i.e. actually opened when it says temporarily closed). SUPPORT WHEN YOU CAN. I <3 NYC

      • Rob says:

        Thanks Megan, yes that is very good advice. If you could tell us the names of the restaurants for which we have the status incorrect, we would greatly appreciate that and get them changed immediately. This will benefit everyone else using the app. Thank you!

    13. JS says:

      Wondering……whatever happened to Menu Pages?

    14. tessa says:

      I was walking down Amsterdam yesterday and was thrilled to see that the brand-new Consulate just reopened (85th and Amsterdam)!! Poor guys, they opened for the first time just a couple months ago.. then shut down with the lock-down.. but great news, they’re open again for take-away. Best negronis in the neighborhood.

    15. Rob says:

      Hi everyone, Rob Fraley here.

      I really appreciate all the feedback. I just wanted to take a moment to explain how we went about determining the correct status of restaurants.

      Shortly before launch, our team checked in with every one of the 6,400 restaurants on our system, using all available online resources, as well as phone calls.

      So, almost every restaurant we have marked as open was, at one time, post lockdown, open.

      I say “almost” because there were situations where the status could not be determined, despite our best efforts.

      So, we had to make a decision whether to err on the side of marking open or closed. It was basically a question of user convenience vs a restaurant potentially losing a lifeline, so in many cases we chose to give the benefit of the doubt to the restaurant.

      Obviously, things have moved around a lot since then, and we are doing our best to stay current. Again, to the extent we can get an assist from our users (and we have already heard from many of you), we will achieve the highest accuracy rate possible, and everyone benefits.

      Thank you again.

      • Mike Spring says:

        How about Mokum on 82nd? I love this place , their food is healthy

        • Rob says:

          Hi Mike,

          Mokum is on our system, but we have them marked as closed. They’ve had a notice up on their website and IG account to this effect for a while.

    16. RobbieTheK says:

      Cafe Viva is not vegan as they have real cheese and the hours are different from what’s on their site.

      • Rob says:

        Thanks for the tip Robbie,

        We changed the cuisine from Vegan to Italian. Each of the individual menu items should appropriately be tagged as GF, vegan or vegetarian. If you see otherwise, please let us know.

        Regarding the hours, we are adding a note to the next update of the app to let users know that the normal menu times are generally not in effect, and to check the delivery links to confirm.