The dining app Spotluck offers users discounts when they visit participating local restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area.

It’s a familiar dilemma. You’re planning a night out with family or friends, but no one can decide what or where they want to eat.

Enter businessmen Cherian Thomas and Brad Sayler, who invented an app called Spotluck that they hope can save Washington, D.C. area eaters from potentially hours spent waffling and arguing over various dining options.

Born in 2014 out of a capstone project that Thomas submitted while finishing an executive master’s degree at Georgetown’s business school, Spotluck lets users spin a wheel to find a restaurant in their neighborhood that will then offer them discounts of up to 35 percent off.

“For consumers, we saw a reoccurring problem, which is figuring out where to eat,” Thomas said. “That happens all over the world, so we have big expectations for Spotluck, and we’re solving a problem that’s relatable to everyone and anyone.”

Since launching in Fairfax in June 2014, Spotluck has been downloaded more than 80,000 times and is averaging approximately 75k spins per month, according to Thomas.

The app features nearly 500 restaurants throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

Spotluck also recently added partners in Philadelphia, Penn., where it has entered nine neighborhoods. According to Thomas, the City of Brotherly Love stood out as a good choice for the company’s first expansion outside of the D.C. area because, like D.C., it’s community-centric and has a lot of foodies and early adopters of technology.

Participating restaurants in Fairfax County include Dolce Vita, The Auld Shebeen and Chops Crafthouse in Fairfax and Present Vietnamese and Panjshir in the Falls Church area. Including Arlington County and Alexandria, there are about 70 restaurants using Spotluck in Northern Virginia.

While he and Sayler initially had approach restaurants to pitch Spotluck, Thomas says that restaurants are now asking them how they can get involved.

The app appeals to restaurants because it was designed just as much with them in mind as it was for users, offering owners an opportunity to attract new customers without having to spend too much money.

“We really wanted to help local restaurants,” Thomas said. “It’s about yield management, meaning the restaurant has an open seat, and we fill it, but we fill it to make sure that it’s profitable.”

Thomas and Sayler, who both quit their jobs as a commodities and manufacturing executive and a corporate lawyer, respectively, when they started their app, developed Spotluck based on the idea that meal prices shouldn’t be the same during down times as they are during a restaurant’s peak hours.

As a result, Spotluck discounts range from 15 to 35 percent, depending on the date, time of day, weather and other factors that might influence restaurant occupancy.

Because the discount depends on when a person uses it, users have to ‘lock in’ before eating so that the app can let them know how much of a discount they will get. Using GPS, the Spotluck app will also ensure that the user is actually in the right restaurant.

After eating, users can take advantage of the app’s built-in tip calculator before ranking the restaurant’s food, atmosphere and service and leaving optional comments that are sent directly to the restaurant owner.

“What restaurants love is it’s real. You can’t leave a review unless you’re actually at the restaurant,” Thomas said.

While the reviews are currently only visible to restaurant owners, who can also upload photos and view analytics through a merchant version of the Spotluck app, Thomas says that the company will soon start making reviews public.

Thomas credits team of 15 or so employees who have joined the company since it started in his basement and “eat, breathe, sleep, live Spotluck” with its success.

Thomas and Sayler next hope to spread Spotluck across the East Coast, putting Boston, Mass., New York City, and Chicago, Ill., on their shortlist, but even if they end up taking the company national or even global, they still want to preserve the app’s local focus.

Restaurants that use Spotluck market with each other based on the neighborhood where they’re located, and the app is aimed at smaller, local establishments, rather than the big chains that seem to be taking up more and more real estate in the D.C. area.

“It’s about community and collaboration,” Thomas said. “We were excited to bring some attention to Fairfax, and not just the Mosaic District. Fairfax has a lot of other great local eateries, and we wanted to make sure they’re noted, because it’s hard for them to be seen.”

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