Restaurant apps aim to save diners money, peace of mind

App called What the Health allows diners to view restaurant inspection reports

By Danielle Frew

ORLANDO, Fla. - Foodie James Emerson has been eating his way through Central Florida since 2009 when he started his blog, Eating Orlando.

"I never want to stop eating at Orlando restaurants, there's always something new," Emerson said.

That's why we asked Emerson for his life-hacking restaurant tips and how we can save you big.

His first tip is a reminder that the time of day you got out to eat matters.

"If it's a more expensive restaurant, either go between lunch and dinner and order off the lunch menu or just plain ask for the lunch portion at dinner. Sometimes you can barely tell the difference in the portions, but it's a lot cheaper," Emerson said.

Don't forget those early evening deal, either. 

"Hit happy hour, not just for the drinks, but for the half-priced appetizers. That's why I go," Emerson said.

He also says it's not just about the meal, but the restaurant's atmosphere matters, too.

"Some restaurants you go to, you think they're great. They could be a national chain, and (you) look at that health report and they've got rats, roaches," Emerson said.

That's where the app What The Health comes in handy. It complies health inspection reports for all your favorite restaurants while you're out.

What The Health app developers Chris Peoples and Jake Van Dyke say their goal of creating the app was to make the information more accessible.

"There's all this information that the health department goes out and they inspect all these restaurants, but it's not really easy to get into the user's hands or the consumer," Van Dyke said.

The app grades restaurants based on a 100-point grading scale, taking off points when violations are found -- violations like raw food being left out too long, or employees not washing their hands.

"You'll be surprised at a lot of the restaurants that you'll see around that you think have like a 5-star Yelp rating, and then you'll see they have like a 60 health score or something," Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke and Peoples say they hope to cover restaurants across the country, but for now, they've compiled scores in Florida, Georgia, Louisana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.

Another useful app that's come on our radar, especially if you've got kids, is "Kids Eat Free."

It does pretty much what it sounds like: helps you find eateries with free kid's meals on any given day.

Most deals just require you to purchase an adult-size entree to get the free food.

But if you're looking for a healthier option, we've found an app for that, too.

The app Tasteful helps you find nearby restaurants based on your dietary needs.

You can search for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and even low-carb dishes from restaurants that are recommended in your area on a map.

Once you've chosen a spot, Emerson warns against falling for restaurant marketing tricks.

"Don't order the specials off the menu. Those are normally not the best food in the kitchen, but the most profitable food in the kitchen, that's why they're the specials, they want you to order it," Emerson said.

Emerson also recommends looking for coupons on the restaurant's website or social media pages and signing up for loyalty cards.

When all else fails, he says, "Just ask for a discount, when you go to a restaurant say how much of a fan you are of the restaurant, mention that you eat there all the time and that you've shared photos on Instagram."

If you're dining out for your birthday, most chain restaurants will give you something for free. All you have to do is sign up for their emails. We've created a list of those restaurants and what you can get.

For more information on James Emerson, please visit his blog Eating Orlando

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