BooRah Makes You the Restaurant Guru

Posted by Emily Chang on Monday, April 28th, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve spent the past few days exploring food website BooRah, which I can only describe as a localized restaurant information mecca. BooRah’s Brian Warren and Nagaraju Bandaru graciously offered me a guided tour, which I hungrily accepted. The conversation was both informative and professional, and I was left with the impression that BooRah is not only a capable product, but that it is in capable hands as well.

BooRah is a semantic restaurant information aggregator. In other words, it’s a massive guide to local restaurants. We’re not talking about just a few major restaurants in a few major cities. While BooRah isn’t live in all states yet, including my own, the list of cities that BooRah knows about is really, really long. I mentioned that BooRah is a semantic aggregator. What this means is that BooRah takes it’s list of cities and goes around picking up relevant bits from blogs all over the internet that mention restaurants in those cities. It’s semantic in that it is smart enough to figure out if a particular piece of commentary is saying something negative (a Boo) or something positive (a Rah). All those Boo’s and Rah’s are tallied up, giving the restaurant a score. In addition to the overall score, restaurants are scored on three different categories, their food, their service, and their ambiance. Not every Boo or Rah comes from a foodie blog, however. Ever eat someplace that was supposed to be ‘all that’ and it just wasn’t? Users can vote up or down restaurants, write their own reviews, and even add their own tags.

BooRah

Your first visit to BooRah can be a little overwhelming. At least, it was for me. There is a huge amount of information crammed onto each page, so the fact that it was only a little overwhelming is a testament to the BooRah design team. The first thing you’ll want to do is narrow things down to a city that’s relevant to you. I’ll be headed to Chicago soon, so I selected the Chicago Metro. From here, you can search within an entire metro area or limit your search to a specific city or neighborhood. BooRah rates tons and tons of restaurants, so narrowing your search quickly is key if you really want BooRah to work for you.

Once you’ve found a city or neighborhood, direct your attention to the City at a Glance box on the right side of the screen. This feature shows you how many restaurants BooRah has indexed in your city and rates them based on the ratings given to local restaurants. You may need to check out a few cities in a metro area before you find the one with the best combination of food, service, and ambiance. It’s nice that BooRah shows you this at a glance, but I found myself wishing I could pull up a metro and see how all the included cities ranked on one page or list.

City at a Glance

By now, you’re looking at a city with a good combination of food, service, and ambiance. Opposite the City at a Glance and in the left hand column you’ll find a list of popular cuisines in the area. The number of BooRah-rated establishments is shown in parentheses next to each cuisine. If you’re craving Chinese, or maybe a good steak, the Popular Cuisine feature is huge. And between these two features, your stating list of thousands of restaurants in hundreds of cities has been cut down to a few dozen or less in just a few clicks.

BooRah also has a few tools to help you keep up with the food buzz in your favorite city. To begin with, each BooRah-rated city has it’s own RSS feed. This is great because it means any time BooRah learns something new about your city, so do you. Further down the page you’ll come to a list of local Foodie Blogs. Food-related blogs are the fuel behind BooRah. A lot of those Boo’s and Rah’s come from reviews and commentary on blogs. Subscribing to BooRah’s RSS feed and the RSS feeds from a few of these foodie blogs is a great way to keep up with the local eat scene.

BooRah’s restaurant reviews are another engineering feat the way the development team managed so much information. Unlike the Metro Area and City pages, which I found rather overwhelming at first, the reviews are much less intimidating. Everything you need to make a restaurant decision is right there waiting for you. The restaurant’s overall rating is at the top, and you can see how it rates in food, ambiance, and service further down the page. The restaurant’s address and phone number are prominently displayed, as is a street-level Google map. Being directionally hopeless, I can totally appreciate the Google Maps integration. Big kudos for this feature!

For the directionally challenged

If you want to dig into what people are saying about your local diner, BooRah makes it easy to read other reviewers’ comments and commentary in each of the three review categories. And, throwing in a social spin, BooRah members can rate an establishment or write a review of their own, track their favorite establishments, view other users’ favorites, and email restaurant info.

Also on the review page and immediately below the restaurant rating, BooRah provides a restaurant ‘profile’ that seems somewhat a work in progress, but allows users to add tags to a restaurant. Given that each establishment is already organized by locale and cuisine, my first thought was that this feature was rather redundant. That is, until I realized that glancing at the tags is a great way to get an quick impression of the restaurant. For example, if a restaurant is tagged