Dining App Puts Tenleytown on the Map

A sleek new dining app created by a Georgetown University business school graduate may have you eating out more. With just one click, Spotluck provides users access to dining discounts in 11 neighborhoods featuring more than 100 restaurants in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia – and that number is only growing.

Welcome to Spotluck

Unlike other dining apps Spotluck is focused on local neighborhoods – or what it calls “hubs” –grouping together restaurants in key areas, like our own Tenleytown/Friendship Heights. The Bethesda-based company is not so much interested in promoting one-off restaurants, according to Vice President of Hub Relations Dillon Tedesco, as it is in marketing a community dining scene. As he sees it, “a busy street is better for everyone.”

After downloading the free app, users select a dining hub and with a virtual “spin” of the wheel discover what discounts are available at participating restaurants within the neighborhood – up to 35% for a Spotluck “hotspot,” a randomly selected restaurant offering the best deal of the day. If the featured restaurant isn’t what a user is craving, that’s okay. The app offers lower discounts, usually around 10%, at other restaurants in the hub. 

Tenleytown Spotluck Hub Wheel

Tenleytown Hub Wheel on Spotluck

Discounts are based on an algorithm that factors in user reviews, weather, the days and times when restaurants are busiest, and other data points designed to offer higher discounts when there is less demand for seats, helping draw in customers. Special bonuses are frequently offered when the weather is bad as an enticement for users to get out on a rainy day. And users who post to Facebook can earn an additional 5% discount on top of the one offered in the app – a good deal for diners and a marketing boost for restaurants and Spotluck.

The game-like aspect of Spotluck – a roulette wheel where your number always comes up – is in keeping with the fun, youthful, energetic vibe of the team behind the app. But this isn’t your typical hipster crowd. The brand and staff lean friendly, not trendy.

What comes across in talking with Tedesco and Marketing Director Tom Nguyen, is that Spotluck is not about getting you into that hip new spot or securing that otherwise unattainable reservation. Rather, they’re hoping that the discounts will encourage you to stop by your favorite local eatery or discover a new restaurant – whether it be a casual pub or a fine dining establishment.

What’s more, Spotluck is both diner and restaurant driven. “The last thing restaurants need is another thing to manage,” says Tedesco. A simple dashboard application, loaded on an iPad the company provides, allows restaurant owners to track Spotluck patrons, receive feedback directly from verified diners, and adjust the times discounts are available. As Spotluck’s business model depends on volume – the app earns $1 for every customer who uses one of its deals, as opposed to a percentage of the total bill – the company has a vested interest in marketing the restaurants along with its app. “We go to work on their behalf,” says Tedesco “to create a user base of on demand diners.”

The strategy seems to be working. Since Spotluck launched last summer, it has grown to 30,000 “spins” per month, according to Tedesco.

Spotluck began in Rockville and Bethesda, where CEO Cherian Thomas resides. He developed the idea while pursuing an executive masters in leadership at Georgetown University and together with co-founder Brad Sayler, started the company out of his basement before moving into the current UberOffices in Bethesda. The app expanded into the District this past February, and the first Northern Virginia hubs followed in April.

Currently, Alfio’s, Angelico Pizzeria, Bread & Salt, Cafe of India, Clyde’s, Le Chat Noir, Satay Club, and Tanad Thai are members of the Tenleytown/Friendship Heights hub, with hopefully more restaurants joining soon.

Tenleytown-Friendship Heights Spotluck Restaurants