Should You Give the TableCard App A Shot?

A Lady Goes to Dinner | Photo: evanspicturios/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Free apps for your smartphone should always be approached with a bit of hesitancy. Due to the labyrinthian process that comes with developing, programming, getting Apple to consider it worthwhile enough to approve, and eventually promoting the app, these kinds of things aren't created simply for the good of society. There is certainly a plan in place to fill the programmers's coffers with gold. The question for free downloads, then, is just what that plan is, exactly?

This was my most immediate question regarding the release of TableCard, a new app that allows users in Los Angeles to get discounts from a bunch of nearby restaurants. It works like so:

1. Download the app.
2. Allow it to do that whole somewhat creepy "track your position" GPS thingy in order for it to locate the nearest participating restaurants.
3. Pick one and see what kind of discount they're willing to give TableCard users. While you're browsing, you can peruse the various Yelp reviews if you want to see what dishes people are recommending or which servers to avoid.
4. Go to the restaurant.
5. Hit the button to activate the discount by "checking-in" where you're dining.
6. Show your phone to your server.
7. Bam! Pay less than you normally would've!

Where TableCard differs from other bargain-based food apps is that there is no coupon structure in place, where you have to pick and choose when you use that one discount opportunity you have. All of the bargains in the TableCard app can be used over and over and over again. Does that great taco joint next door have a 15% off discount on TableCard? You can head there five times a week and get a cool 15% off every time.

The company boasts having over 400 restaurants in L.A. currently signed on, and are continually trying to get more. While the availability most certainly varies neighborhood to neighborhood, I plugged in my own Silver Lake address and was greeted with seven joints within walking distance that offer discounts, falling between 15% and 20% off. (The makers of the app say that 20% off is the average current discount.) Notable restaurants that have partnered with TableCard include Chaya, Café Med, Pace, Magnolia, Ca Brea, Geisha House, and Off Vine. (Oh, and if you don't live in L.A., feel free to ignore this post until TableCard opens up in your neck of the woods -- supposedly, New York and Chicago are next on the list.)

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And on top of all this good free stuff, TableCard has made the promise to donate 1% of their revenue to Los Angeles food banks, projecting they'll be able to donate 250,000 meals by the time the calendar flips over to April of 2014.

Which, again, is to ask: What's the catch?

For users, there really isn't one. The only possible thing I can figure is the above-mentioned Step 5 in the process, where users are forced to "check-in" where they're eating in order to use the coupon. That act seems reminiscent of Foursquare (remember that?) wherein restaurants and bars tried to build awareness simply by getting people to announce that they were currently there. The act of checking-in, then, is seemingly the only "cost" of downloading and using the app. Which, if we're talking about getting 15%-20% off most meals, seems like a bargain.

P.S. Remember to tip on the full price of the meal!

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