If you just can't face cooking or are planning a night out with friends, there are plenty of apps that will help you find the perfect restaurant. Are you organising a trip abroad and wondering which restaurants to eat in? Some of the apps below could prove essential. Similarly, if you are arranging a visit to the big city and wondering where to eat, you should check out these restaurant apps below.
Free – 5 stars
This is the restaurant app on our phone that we find ourselves using the most. It edges into the lead slightly because it allows you to search for restaurants by category, such as British & European, Chinese & East Asian, Pubs & Bars with Restaurants.
We find that its database of restaurants out in the countryside is much better than any other restaurant app we use – if we heading out of town on a Sunday we look for good pubs for Sunday Lunch near to the area we are visiting and we've never been disappointed.
Reviews are detailed and professionally written. Distance from your location is indicated and you can view on a map within the app, or in Google Maps. Contact information is provided – you can either call or visit the website. You can favourite any restaurants you like as well as share on Facebook, Twitter, via Email or SMS.
The Food & Drink app doesn't feature special offers, but this is about the only thing it doesn't do. There tend to be a few annoying 'Featured' restaurants at the top of every search, but given that it's an app that offers a lot for free that's a small 'price' to pay.
Free – 5 stars
We've been using Square Meal website for years – way back before the iPhone was launched. By default the app returns results grouped by distance.
Recommendations are generally of venues that have been reviewed by independent critics for Square Meal, but sometimes there is no review – just details provided by the venues themselves, but restaurants do not pay for inclusion so clearly some vetting does go on before a venue is promoted by Square Meal.
If booking online is possible it is indicated. You can also view the venue on a map, and the 'Essential Details' provided include phone number and website link. You can also search for special offers,
We like the fact that despite being a free app the restaurant recommendations are provided by a team of experts rather than the general public, because in our experience professional recommendations are more reliable. We find we have more confidence in a venue because we found it in this app.
You can search by location, using town or postcode, and there is a good selection of restaurant recommendations offered for all of the locations we tried.
We like the combination of professional reviews and the fact that you can get details of special offers and make online bookings. All that from a free app.
Free – 5 stars
This is another app that does more than just offer details of restaurants, but the restaurant recommendations – while not extensive, and mainly limited to central London – are good.
You can search for restaurants by cuisine, price, date, and location. Listings include star ratings, price, and whether online booking is available.
Most reviews are by Time Out restaurant critics, but user reviews are also on offer and in some cases the review is provided by a Time Out partner. We tend to focus on the professionally reviewed restaurants indicated by Time Out's star ratings.
You can also find phone number, address, website, a guide to process, opening hours, transport information, and facilities.
Shoudl you wish to search by location we found that searching by town (or area) name was more accurate than searching by postcode. For example, searching for Kings Cross gave us results around the St Pancras area, while searching by postcode returned results in Soho.
Time Out is a good app for finding good restaurants in and around London. Many of these restaurants have been reviewed by Time Out's team of critics, which we find makes the reviews more credible. It's also useful to be able to book from inside the app. Obviously the only limitation is the fact that it's focused on London, but if that's all you need it's a very good app.
Free – 4 stars
We reviewed Poynt back when it launched but haven't really used it much since. In the interim period the app seems to have gained some new features including messaging and sharing.
What put us off the app in the past was the fact that the restaurants listed were supplied by Yell and as a result we felt that many of the results were often quite poor restaurants, and since the restaurants that were returned had paid for inclusion we felt that it wasn't the best recommendation. Now the restaurant info is supplied by Google and the reviews and images either come from Google or from Four Square. That information includes phone number, you can also add the contact information to your contacts (if you are happy for the app to have access to your contacts that is), directions and website details.
You can search for restaurants in your current location, or add a new search location. There is even the option to search between your current location and a separate location – which could be handy if you wanted to find venues between where you are now and the train station from which you will be leaving.
You can also search the app for cafes, by cuisine, and for bars and clubs.
The app has improved since we used it last, with reviews from Google and Foursquare, but we still prefer to see professional reviews. The fact that this app offers more than restaurant information is a factor in its favour, we also like the fact that YouTube is now built into the app.
Free – 4 stars
The AA apps all want your details every time you open the app, we automatically skip this page, but it's annoying none the less. One in the app, tap the magnifying glass to search for a particular location (town name, not postcode), or look for restaurants close to your current location. Your recently searched locations remain in the list so it's easy to search them again. Restaurants are listed according to distance.
All the recommendations are high quality restaurants - you'll see how many AA Rosettes they have been awarded. Rosettes are the AA's award for the best restaurants. This app includes the restaurants awarded Rosettes in 2013, the 2014 awards haven't yet been announced.
Restaurant reviews are professionally written including recommendations. The app includes details of facilities, parking, special offers, and a location map, which uses Google Maps, but can be opened in the Maps app. You can favourite restaurants by tapping the star icon and click forwards and backwards through the list by tapping the arrows. From the restaurant listing you can call, email, and get directions. If the restaurant has a website a link to this will be available here too.
The AA's Restaurant Guide is a great app for finding top quality restaurants. If you are looking for cheap places to eat this isn't really for you, also, because it's limited to restaurants with rosettes you may find that there are no restaurants near you.
Free – 4 stars
The key feature in Toptable is its ability to find a restaurant with availability at a time that suites you. You can search a location, and specify a particular day and time, and even the number of people. Details provided include the address, phone number, cuisine type, typical price, parking details, a Top Table review, and user reviews.
You can search by categories such as 'Business Meals', 'Fit for Foodies', and 'Romance'. Sample menus are also available to view.
If you want to book a table you can do so as a guest, although the app encourages you to sign in with Toptable. Similarly if you want to 'favourite' a restaurant you need to sign in or create an account to do so.
We love the fact that we can book tables online without needing to talk to anyone. The only thing that lets Toptable down is the fact that the app can be limited because not every restaurant you might want to go to offers online booking via Toptable.
Free – 4 stars
Like the AA app, Trip Advisor is another app that encourages you to sign in, but you can skip that step (although you'll lose any data you save if you do). You can search for restaurants (and also hotels and attractions) near you now. You should also be able to search another location. But when we tried to it defaulted to our current location. We were eventually able to search a different location but it appears to be glitchy right now, so expect an update to the app soon (the version we were using was updated 4 Feb 2014).
There's a map at the top of the results so at a glance you can see how far from your location the results are. You can broaden the search by pinching in on the map, but this didn't maintain the restaurants from our first search. You can filter by ranking (by the Trip Advisor users), price, and cuisine type.
Unfortunately there is an element of distrust when it comes to Trip Advisor reviews as it is well known that restaurants and hotels place 5 star reviews, but there can also be an abundance of low star reviews because people are more likely to complain than praise on the internet. However, in our opinion Trip Advisor is still one of the best sources of local recommendations on the web.
Along with the reviews you'll get photos, restaurant information including address, phone number, website, and directions (via Google Maps).
This is a great way to discover places to eat with reviews from Trip Advisor's huge number of users. We always read incredibly good reviews with an air of scepticism, but equally don't let the odd bad review put us off. Trip Advisor is a favourite of ours when planning trips abroad, and we've found a number of good restaurants that way. Disappointing that searching anywhere other than the current location appears to be glitchy right now.
Free – 4 stars
Of course you could bypass an app altogether and simply use Google Maps to find restaurants near you. Search for 'restaurants' in the search field and you'll see icons indicating restaurants and cafes, along with hotels on the map. Tap on the icon to see star ratings and reviews by Google users, along with photos of the food, website links, more info (including address, phone number, opening hours), and distance from your location.
Google acquired Zagat (producers of travel and food guides) back in 2012, and as a result some restaurant information is provided by that company (indicated by a Z. This is handy if you want to find more restaurants in the area: you can, for example, search for Best Restaurants Near London's Kings Cross. Or view 'More by Zagat'.
If you like a restaurant, you can favourite it, and of course review it.
If you want to look for restaurants in an area that you aren't in currently, you can search for the area and then search for restaurants. Google Maps will actually show all the restaurants between your current location and the location you are searching for. Alternatively search for 'Restaurants near' the location you are planning to visit.
A handy tip is to download the map of the area you are planning to visit if it's outside the UK, then you will be able to find local restaurants when you are offline. Search "Restaurants near Kos" for example, then once you have the Map open, tap OK Maps into the search field. Your phone will then download the maps information for the area. Unfortunately it will lack information beyond the names of the restaurants, and the restaurants listed are limited.
Google Maps offers a lot more than restaurant recommendations. Some people don't like to give the company too much location information however. The Zagat acquisition has allowed Google to provide some more quality information about certain restaurants, although Zagat's coverage of UK restaurants is somewhat limited.
Free – 4 stars
Like Trip Advisor this is another app where the reviews are provided by restaurant goers, rather then restaurant reviewers. Users upload images of their food, and when you open the app you'll see recent pictures taken near your location. It will no doubt appeal most to those who like to take pictures of their food.
If you see a snap of a meal you'd like to try for yourself you can favourite it, but you will need to Join Food Spotting or sign in with Facebook. Once you have done that you can tap a star, tick, or heart icon (it's not initially clear what any of these mean – it turns out it is want, tried and loved).
You can search your current location, or an area you will be visiting. Unfortunately because the app relies on the general public uploading their images it can be quite spotty in certain areas.
We think we're more likely to use this app in addition to one of the other apps, with the images people have put up making or breaking whether we go there or not, but we did see a few places we weren't aware of that we'd like to try.
Free – 3 stars
The app confusingly makes it look like you need to search for a place by name, but you can search for nearby places by tapping Nearby Places. It is possible change the location by tapping in the text field and then tapping Change Location, but you will only be able to search for places you know the name of, it won't show you places in that location. We thought that one way round this might be to search for the letter 'A' – but this bought up a list of restaurants that were as much as 48 miles away from the location we were searching.
The Nearby Places we were shown included a lot of local restaurants from the Starbucks downstairs to the up market The Booking Office inside St Pancras station. However, many local restaurants were missing, such as the Pizza Express located next to Starbucks.
The app doesn't offer reviews of the restaurants, but you an bookmark places you like, or want to visit. You can also add a note or add a photo.
Matchbook might be useful if you arrived at a location and wanted to find a place to eat that's nearby, but rather than providing reviews, the onus is on you to write the review, and for that reason it's not really that useful. On the other hand, if you think yourself a bit of a restaurant reviewer it could be a great way to catalogue the restaurants you visit.
69p – 3 stars
One for Londoners, or anyone visiting London, this app features tons of hidden gems, the 'Secrets' of the title. Secrets include Activities, Drinks, Food, Museums, and more. We're concerned with Food in this review though.
Food recommendations include 50 restaurants right now, covering everything from the famous Brick Lane Beigels, to Dans Le Noir (the restaurant where you dine in complete darkness), and concluding with the Yumchaa Tea Room in Camden. Most of the submissions come from members of the public, but they are vetted first (which is probably how they justify the 69p price).
Each recommendation features a review, a link to the website, phone number, and opening hours. You can view it on a map as well as Tweet, Facebook or Email the review to a friend.
If you want to focus on a particular area of London, turn to the map, and zoom in on the area you are interested in, or, if you are already there, tap on Find Me.
The app would be a bit easier to navigate if all the Secrets weren't listed on one page, but you can at least hide certain categories. It's a great way to find recommended those hidden gems though. It's hard to quibble over the 69p price, we've ranted before about this app culture that sees people complain about apps being expensive when they cost a mere £1.49. Because this app offers more than restaurants we'd say it's worth the money for the insight it offers.
Free – 3 stars
This app offers a restaurant locator, local gems, search via location and bookmarks, it will even 'suggest a restaurant'.
Search using the Restaurant Locator to find restaurants near you, it's not a definitive list, but the restaurants mentioned feature a 'report' (which is basically a review), along with customer reviews (where available). You can also view sample menus (where available), address, opening times, and extra details (dress style, alfresco, etc). If it is possible to book a table online you will be able to do so from the app (via Top Table).
If you want to search a location you are forced to search by county, then town, rather than tap in the town name. Having performed a search for Croydon we were disappointed to only get one result.
This app is a little too limited in its offering of restaurants at the moment, and given that at log in it boasts that it is "The UK's Premier Mobile Restaurant Guide" that is a disappointment.
Free – 3 stars
This is another app that offers more than restaurants. A quick search for restaurants close to our location, bought up a reasonable selection, including how far away they were in yards. Top of the list was a Google ad. Click on a restaurant for contact information including phone numbers and email addresses, website, and FourSquare Tips (just one) and photos. Not every restaurant entry offered all this information though.
At first it appears that it is only possible to search your location, but if you open the map, and scroll to a different location and click refresh, you can view restaurants in that area.
As is the case with many of the apps we've looked at here, some local restaurants that we rate highly were missing from the results. It's useful that there are other categories of information you can search for in this app (but unfortunately even cinema – I mean Movie Theatre – listings are very limited).
Free – 3 stars
Yet another app that wants you to log on to use it – and having logged on with our email address we saw a unnerving alert that our data would be transferred to the United States with it's "different data protections rules". The app then tries to get you to find friends before finally letting you browse nearby. The results for Best Nearby seemed to return results in no particular order, and results ranged from local restaurants to Forbidden Planet and Primark.
We filtered by distance for more useful results. It is possible to narrow results down to just restaurants, and even further to 'Dinner'. The popularity of venues is indicated by phrases such as "Lots of people like this place", "Popular with out-of-towners", or "You haven't been here yet". The app lists a number of Foursquare user reviews, address, menu, how far away, and photographs of food.
It's not clear from the listings pages which restaurants get good reviews, or are badly reviewed. You can filter by distance or Best Match. It's not really clear what criteria are being used for Best Match though. More useful is searching for Specials. We were again disappointed that there were few restaurants to be found in Croydon. Should you discover a venue you wish to try out, you can save it to your to do list. Unfortunately we inevitably had to search for more information about the venue in another app or on the internet.
Foursquare has built up a social community in some areas, and in these areas it works well enough as a restaurant recommendation app. Like Forkly and Foodspotting it offers photos of food, but it offers more of a focus on user reviews and more information about the venue.
Free – 3 stars
Forkly is another app that wants you to sign in first, but again, you can skip that. It's very similar to Foodspotting in as much as it's focused on food photos taken by the food-loving public. Unfortunately there aren't enough people using the app to find many places near you, but as with the Foodspotting app we did manage to find one place we were unaware of that we'd like to visit, unfortunately information is very limited – a tap on Venue Info brings up a map, but no address or other information. Tap on 'Get Directions' and it opens Google Maps - the web version - which does include more information about the venue.
One feature that it adds that makes is slightly more useful is if you look for food nearby it will identify that you might be in a café or restaurant and will volunteer the menu.
If you like taking photos of your food this app might appeal, but unfortunately it's competing with Foodspotting - and Instagram – and this app really doesn't seem to cover enough restaurants to be useful.
Free – 2 star
The maps app that comes with your iPhone is also useful when searching for restaurants.
Search for "restaurants near me" and the app will return a few restaurants reviewed on Yelp. You can also search for "restaurants near" which ever location you are planning to visit.
Unfortunately, the restaurants supplied were disappointing due to Apple's reliance on Yelp. We definitely wouldn't suggest using Apple Maps to find restaurants.
Apple Maps obviously offers much more than restaurant recommendations, and we wouldn't say that it was a one star product when it comes to maps and directions, however the restaurant recommendations were far to limited and in many cases poor.