In Cleveland's ever-expanding dining scene, the weightiest decision often boils down to this: Where should we eat tonight?
The team behind the new app Wheedle (wheedleapp.com), launching this month, is aiming to make that process a little easier. By entering the date, number in your party and occasion — breakfast, VIP night on the town, birthday or bachelor party, to name a few — restaurants can pitch special offers that are delivered directly to your handy mobile device.
The service is free to users while charging a small fee to restaurants when offers are redeemed.
As a longtime bar and restaurant promoter, Wheedle CEO and co-founder John Weston found himself constantly searching social media for new ways to reel in the nightlife masses and to scour for party planners in need of a venue.
When digital networking's limitations sparked the idea for the app, Weston linked up with chief operating officer Evan Cooper, a startup guru, and president and co-founder Brian Stein, a tech strategy consultant, to bring the concept full circle.
"I was looking at how to extend our reach beyond the limits of who we personally knew on Facebook and then replicate the process and make it easy for other places to do the same thing," Weston says.
Anybody who's ever booked a reservation through OpenTable knows that technology is changing the way we eat. Wheedle takes a reverse approach by allowing the restaurants to come to you.
In an early test run, a group of 10 young women celebrating a 21st birthday were in search of a bar near the downtown hotel where they were staying. Within minutes, a Warehouse District bar responded with a special VIP champagne package for the night.
Other offers were as simple as watching a Browns game in a westside gastropub or an all-you-can-drink plan geared to a large party. A bachelor party request might result in a limo being sent to retrieve the gang for a steak dinner at XO or drinks on the downtown strip.
An offer landing in your "You Got Wheedled!" mailbox could serve up a special seat at the chef's table or tableside dessert preparation that users might never have known about.
"The only way you could have done this five years ago is to pick up a phone, call every establishment and say, 'I'm coming with a group of people. What can you do for me?'" explains Stein.
Woodmere eatery Paladar Latin Kitchen, and its offshoot Bomba Tacos, have been early proponents of the system. Eager to shine a spotlight on their bounty of rum varieties, the restaurants will be inviting users in for a special flight or $5 off curated selections.
"Until now, there wasn't a service that gives you a direct connection to guests that are already looking to go out," says Paladar Restaurant Group's director of marketing Katy Landers. "If you're having an unexpected slow night, you can send out a Wheedle to a few parties and really turn the whole evening around."
Wheedle's current client roster already includes Fire Food and Drink, Sowfood and the Willeyville.
It's not just high-end restaurants and nightlife establishments that are cashing in: Antonio's Pizza will deliver pies for an alternative night in. Tremont Scoops plans to encourage area diners to stroll the neighborhood after a meal while enjoying some ice cream.
"Cleveland's such a great market to launch in because we have all these emerging neighborhoods and emerging chefs," Stein says. "But sometimes their challenge is just getting discovered."