There seems to be an app for everything these days: Find where your friends are hanging out with FourSquare, summon a cab with TaxiMagic, even arrange to vacation in a stranger's apartment with Airbnb.
The crowdsourcing of food reviews is one of the most successful app applications; tools like Yelp and Urbanspoon offer heaps of information to hungry consumers. And what goes better with food than booze?
So Pittsburgh-based Rhomania, a scrappy startup spurred by technology incubator AlphaLab, has slowly been building a network to serve discerning drinkers. Their app, released in February, is called Grail (and can be found in the app store under "Grail Menu").
Grail's base function is to supplement a restaurant's static, paper drinks menu with a dynamic, searchable list beamed straight to a customer's phone.
Grail users at Joseph Tambellini's in Highland Park will find vivid descriptions of the contents of the restaurant's mammoth wine list, written by Mr. Tambellini himself. At Verde in Garfield, meanwhile, Grail provides detailed descriptions of the 150-plus tequila and mezcal offerings. Such compendiums of information could easily overwhelm — or appear pretentious to — guests if they were printed on paper.
When you dig deeper into the data, the potential technological advantages quickly become apparent. At Verde, for instance, consumers are invited to add their own ratings and reviews to the tequila list.
Marketing director Chip Homer says that beer, wine, and other spirits can also be reviewed and that those reviews are portable: A beer review in one restaurant will pop up if the same beer is offered in another Grail-equipped restaurant.
"The idea of connoisseurs having a list of ratings and reviews they can take from restaurant to restaurant is huge," says Homer.
Indeed, Rhomania's quest for The Grail hinges on the success of this feature, and its current challenge is to expand access: With only six restaurants online, the social-media advantage for consumers is limited.
"We need the traction," says Homer. "We just want to start that upward curve, and we'll be in a good place."