You might be seeing green lately throughout your morning commute. Currently exclusive to the DMV, Spotluck is taking over the local foodie scene—and the metro. Brad Sayler and Cherian Thomas are the dynamic co-founders of the fun and festive dining app headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.
Cherian came up with the seed for Spotluck as a deliverable for his Capstone project while pursuing a Master’s at Georgetown University. When he met Brad, who hails from a financial and legal background, Spotluck went from a simple idea to a mobile app.
While Brad and Cherian humbly credit the app’s success to their diverse background and experience, having great team members and quality participating local restaurants throughout the region doesn’t hurt.
With Spotluck, it’s simple and easy to spin the wheel, save, and solve the age-old question of where to go out to eat. Bitches love options, but sometimes we need a little help deciding between all of our amazing choices. I sat down with the duo while they dished about their story and their passion for all things local.
What was your inspiration for coming up with Spotluck?
The inspiration was to take on a big picture challenge of bringing yield management to the restaurant space. We both felt that prices in a restaurant on a Tuesday at 2 p.m. when it’s raining should not be the same as prices in a restaurant on a Friday night when it’s beautiful out, and restaurants all agree. We wanted to fill the gap and put forth a product that has value and fulfills a need. At the same time, on the consumer facing side, we wanted to make sure that we’re in a space with a reoccurring problem, or a challenge, which is not knowing where to eat. In D.C., there are so many choices out there, and it’s really hard to make a decision. We all argue: spouse, co-workers and friends…Spotluck solves that argument and lets you figure out where to eat in ten seconds. And more importantly, it’s local, and that’s what people want.
How does the app work?
The app is simple. It’s food, fun and local. It’s really hard to figure out where to eat when you go to all these neighborhoods in D.C., Arlington, Georgetown and Clarendon. You bust out Spotluck, you select your neighborhood, you get one spin per day and totally at random it’s going to pick out a great local restaurant for you. Now, whatever you land on, you’re going to get a really high incentive or a nudge to go out to eat there. But the key word is that incentive or discount is a smart discount.
We use day, time, weather and other factors that affect restaurant occupancy, and create a smart discount that makes sure that the restaurants win and the consumers win. If you don’t like what you land on, you always get 10% off as a universal neighborhood loyalty system. No matter what, just for supporting local. You simply show up and lock-in the time based discount. Discounts will change based on 12 p.m. versus 3 p.m. versus 6 p.m. You show that to the wait staff, and they will take a discount off on your entire food and drink in Maryland and D.C., and in Virginia, it’s just your food.
The really cool thing about Spotluck is after the dining experience, you get to leave a review, but the reviews are authentic. They’re authentic for two reasons. One, they’re GPS verified, so owners know that that guest was actually in their restaurant. Two, it’s private feedback that goes directly back to the owner of the restaurant. Yes, the owners might publicize some of the feedback, but it’s only going to them, this isn’t a place to talk trash because no one’s seeing it. It’s direct actionable feedback that goes directly to the owner.
Can you tell us about your process of selecting restaurants?
CT: The process of selecting the restaurants is first and foremost we are local or work with locally owned restaurants. Everything is certified local. We’re also neighborhood-centric. So we don’t market one restaurant, we market the neighborhood. And Spotluck is unique in that it’s a collaborative marketing platform, that, you know, Clyde’s is marketing for J. Paul’s, J. Paul’s is marketing for Martin’s Tavern, Martin’s Tavern is marketing for the three of them. A busy block is good for everyone, and we truly feel that way, as do restaurants. So, both hyper-local in where we’re putting our hubs or our neighborhoods. And then also, making sure that everybody is certified local. So, the selection process is two fold, we have restaurants that come to us, and approach us and fill out online applications to join Spotluck. But we still vet that process to make sure that they are truly authentic and truly local.
BS: When you spin, we’re making a recommendation for you to go somewhere. Number one we’re not going to go recommend you check out Olive Garden. You know that Olive Garden exists, so it’s more helpful to give you a local or locally owned spot. And we’re not also going to recommend some place that we wouldn’t eat ourselves. So we have a baseline quality that we’re comfortable recommending to our users when they spin and discover a restaurant.
What does Spotluck offer that fills a void in the mobile food app market?
CT: The big void is that connection piece. There are local restaurants that clearly want to communicate with the locavores that live above and around them. And then there’s people in the community that truly want local. Spotluck connects the two and it does it quickly. And it gives both parties incentives that make sure that it’s mutually beneficial, and a win-win platform. So the void in the food app market is clearly a merchant-centric app where everybody wins.
You can have the best happy hour or lamb chops in town, if no one knows you exist it doesn’t matter. And let’s be honest, is everybody going to check out all of the websites before they go out to eat? Or they can check out one app because everyone is mobile these days, and get all the information they want to know about the restaurants in a one stop shop.
BS: There are a lot of apps out there that let you find restaurants, but very few of them allow the restaurants to customize their appearance on that app. So, from a user’s perspective, they’re seeing what the restaurant wants them to see and they’re putting their best foot forward. And, from the restaurant’s perspective, it’s easier to manage than a web page. With Spotluck it’s very simple to communicate.
What are some of the most buzzing days and times that people use the app?
I think one unique and important thing for us is the weather bonus. So when the weather turns foul and starts to rain, we let our users know the discounts just went up, and that always results in a huge flurry of activity. Whether it’s a Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, Sunday, folks – our users appreciate it, and our restaurants appreciate it because it gets people into their restaurant when otherwise they would be dusting the tables. In neighborhoods that are already established there’s a lot of activity. We see a lot of activity when restaurants need it most.
How many neighborhoods is Spotluck currently in? Where will you expand next?
Currently in 20 neighborhoods, working with nearly 300 restaurants all throughout the DMV. And we have big plans for Spotluck, to bring it to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia. But we certainly want to make sure that DC gets the attention that it deserves. It’s a huge dining scene, there are so many restaurants that are contacting us, so we’re going to be beefing up a lot of our current neighborhoods as we look into future nationwide expansion.
Where is your favorite place to brunch in town?
CT: Silo in Chinatown. They’re known for their brunch. I mean, what a unique place that maybe the entire world doesn’t yet know about, but when you get there you’re like, “Wow! This place is amazing.” So I’d have to say Silo.
BS: I don’t make it into the city as much as I used to for brunch. But we went to Mussel Bar recently and the food and drink were spot on. I like seafood with my brunch, it makes it more out of the realm of breakfast if you mix seafood into it.
What is your favorite dish to cook for brunch?
CT: If I were to make brunch, I typically will do some sort of specialized, open-faced sandwich. I might be stealing from Penn Social’s menu, they have a jalapeno waffle with pulled pork. So I will be making that with an egg on top, and some serious chilis on top as a garnish.
BS: I’m definitely a savory guy. I get adventurous but it’s usually within the realm of a breakfast sandwich or burrito. Start with egg, meat and cheese, and go from there. I’ve been making hash browns lately where I just take a potato, grate it down, and then soak all the moisture out of it, and then I make this super thin patty that I crisp up. Add that crispiness plus an avocado to a bacon, egg and cheese! Plus I love to make a big batch of sausage gravy and biscuits.
What brunch item do you have to order if it’s on the menu?
CT: Yeah, typically it’s a huevos rancheros, or whatever Bitches Who Brunch recommends us.
BS: See, this is funny because I would switch to more of the sweets for this. I don’t necessarily make the sweets as much, so if I see some crazy fritter or beignet, or something like that, I usually order those. I make the savory and order the sweet.
Do you prefer Bloody Marys or mimosas?
CT: Bloody Marys. And if it isn’t a spicy Bloody Mary, just go next door.
BS: Definitely Bloody Marys. And honestly, that’s probably the first thing I order when I go to brunch. When I do make it out to brunch, I’m looking forward to the drink. Love the food, but you can’t beat a spicy Bloody Mary.
BitchBiz: Bitches Who Brunch partners with Spotluck. While this article was written independently by Bitches Who Brunch, we do receive compensation from the company.