Both restaurants and consumers face serious Dining Dilemmas. For restaurants, the problem is that they have fixed menu prices all throughout the day and week, regardless of factors that might weaken demand. For example, the Tartufo Pizza from Tap House is $17 whether you dine at 8pm on a beautiful Friday evening, when demand is high, or at 4pm on Monday in torrential rain, when demand is low. For customers, the problems are that, firstly, everyone argues about where to eat, and, secondly, nobody wants to spend more money than necessary. Enter Spotluck: the app that provides monetary incentives to dine out at specific restaurants and at less popular times, simultaneously saving money for the consumer.

Here’s how it works: you choose the neighborhood in which you would like to dine—University City, for example. You spin the virtual wheel, which is divided into segments with a restaurant name on each. At whichever restaurant the wheel stops, you receive a minimum of 15 percent off your check and a maximum of 35 percent, depending on weather, time of day and day of the week. For the other restaurants on the wheel, you receive a minimum of 10%. I’ll repeat that. You receive 10 percent off your bill every time you dine out no matter what, but there is one randomly–selected place where you will save even more.

For example, right now it’s 1:24pm on a Thursday, and I’m about ready for lunch. So I spin the wheel on which Tap House, Tandoor, Aksum, Ramen Bar Drexel, Ramen Bar UPenn, Jake’s Sandwich Board, Baby Blues and Hai Street Kitchen are options. The wheel lands on Ramen Bar UPenn, so I receive 20 percent off there and 10 percent off all the others. When I get there, I just have to show my server the app. More customers for Ramen Bar, cheaper noodles and deadly cocktails for me. “It’s a win–win for the marketplace,” said Cherian Thomas, who co–founded Spotluck with Brad Sayler. “It encourages exploring and checking out local gems.” 

So far, Spotluck has partnered with VisitPhilly, Center City District Sips and 150 local restaurants in the city of Philadelphia, where it is growing 25 times faster than it is in Washington DC. Thomas attributes this success, in part, to the culture of the city. “It’s very local and everybody loves their neighborhood,” he said. “Philadelphia really screams foodie.”

Thomas also cites his “team of spies,” comprised of Penn students Zachary Stimler, Zach Madden, Sherry Yao, Nick Scian and Alec Josiah, as paramount to the success of the app. “These are students taking on the responsibilities of professionals,” such as performing a full–on marketing research analysis of UPenn and UCity, determining where to market the brand and designing Spotluck swag to pique the interest of students. “Philadelphia is a huge university city, so when we launched that hub we wanted students to take the lead on our marketing efforts,” Thomas said. “They’ve been vital and instrumental in our growth.”

There is also a charity component to the company called “Spotluck Potluck,” which targets a third and far more pressing dining dilemma—food insecurity. Each restaurant in partnership with Spotluck donates a tray of food, which the company then returns to needy people in the local community.

Charity and cheaper eats? Street is sold.