When news broke Friday of WhatsApplebees, an Applebee's-exclusive networking app, we were pretty pumped. A place for us to network with like-minded Steak Quesadilla Tower lovers sounds like it deserves a permanent place on the dock of our iPhone (move over email!). Anxious, of course, to take it for a spin for ourselves, we headed over to the Taj Mahal of neighborhood grills in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf (San Francisco's first location) for lunch to check out the amazing experience first hand.
If you're traveling and aren't quite sure where your nearest Applebee's location is, the app has you covered – offering directions in both Apple and Google Maps to the promised land. Our office (unfortunately) is a few miles away from our closest location, so we took an Uber. On the way to paradise, we casually mentioned the app to our driver. "Tell me more," he said instantly, with the enthusiasm of a true believer. Obviously a trendspotter, after hearing about WhatsApplebees he said he thinks it's going to take off, and even offered this accolade: "Nowadays people are always on their phones, so that might be a good idea." Might be a good idea? It's definitely a good idea.
"I wanted to create something just on the other side of that line - something that's clearly a terrible idea."
WhatsApplebees is the brainchild of New York developer Mike Lazer-Walker, who doesn't seem to realize the app's full potential -- he actually built it as a joke (whaa?). "Lately I've seen so many apps that seem like they're a parody of Silicon Valley culture but are in fact real, actual products," Walker told us. "I wanted to create something just on the other side of that line - something that's clearly a terrible idea, but not SO outlandish compared to the current state of things that you might, for a second, believe it's real."And real it is. Anyone within "around 100 meters" of an Applebee's is free to chat within the app. Conversations are presented anonymously with just text and time codes, and are archived for viewing later on. Walker says diners are kept secret on purpose. "I originally thought of making it pseudo-anonymous, with each user being given a randomly-generated username/avatar (a la the app Secret), but laziness prevailed. I would have loved to make a username generator that came up with fake Applebee's menu items to use as names." Good idea -- Bourbon Street Chimicheesecake does have a special ring to it.
Photos are a no-go within the app. Walker says the feature is "probably not" coming in the future, leading us to believe there's still a chance we might be able to share our 3-cheese chicken pasta with another connoisseur across the country soon. That said, it seems like word of the app hasn't quite gone bicoastal. While at the restaurant we were able to chat amongst ourselves, and what appeared to be just one other enthusiast -- we assume all the other fans are waiting to break it in over a Happy Hour Applebeetini.
"Some people have it on their phone. I do not."
Oddly, our waiter was not a fan of WhatsApplebees. He was exceptionally friendly for our whole meal, but his mood became immediately sullen when we asked about the app. "Some people have it on their phone. I do not, " he said before rushing away. Why not? Our guess is he's holding out for an official version to arrive on the restaurant's tablet service -- it already has table-side "Couples games" built in, so chat seems like the obvious next step, right?
Walker doesn't currently have plans to bring the model to any other chains or platforms, however, when he does (because this is obviously going to take off), below are a few other "opportunities" for spinoffs. Vote and let us know what your faves are.
John Colucci contributed to this report.