Tucson diners can now tap into their digital DNA to find the perfect restaurant.
With the new mobile app Nara, diners fill out a survey of their dining tastes — questions include their preferences on cuisine, setting, location and price point — and the app recommends restaurants to fit their tastes. Once you’ve tried the restaurant, you go back and rate it and the app further refines your digital DNA.
Nara is the brainchild of California entrepreneur Tom Copeman, who turned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientists and Nathan Wilson, a MIT neuroscientist, to develop the program.
Yes, apparently it does take a brain surgeon to find a good restaurant.
“Our technology ... thinks the way our human brain thinks, sort of emulating the architecture of our brain,” explains Copeman, whose past business ventures included Body Glide, a petroleum-free skin care product; and partnership in the Australian and New Zealand distribution of Lululemon yoga fitness apparel.
Nara skips fast-food outlets — “We think that a lot of people know about fast-food chains already so it’s more the local merchant and the higher-end ones as well that we are hoping to help get discovered,” he explained.
Tucson Originals Executive Director Colette Landeen said she is skeptical that the app will accurately portray local restaurants.
“If their information isn’t complete or accurate, your restaurant won’t be selected,” she said. “I’m a little skeptical how they can match up a diner’s preferences with a series of questions without knowing the restaurants and really knowing the best attributes of the restaurant. It’s one of those things that will have to run its course and see how it works.”
Nara, headquartered in Massachusetts, is integrated with OpenTable, the restaurant reservations network, and GrubHub, the food delivery site. Copeman said restaurants also will be able to advertise with Nara, although advertising will not give the restaurant any leg up on the competition.
“There is no pay to play or sponsored search in our algorithm. We’re working on making a close match between a restaurant and a consumer without the added hormones or anything like that,” he explained. “It’s an all-natural well-intended match between a merchant and a consumer. It’s not as though a restaurant is paying more to get higher in the ranks to get recommended.”
Tucson is one of 25 cities going on line with Nara Tuesday. The company rolled out in 25 cities including New York and San Francisco last November.