Ness: Personalized Restaurant Recommendations

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is sampling the local cuisine. There are times when dining at a familiar chain is comforting, but more often than not I prefer to find an establishment native to the city that I’m visiting. When it comes to finding these local favorites, there are a few apps one can employ such as Yelp or Urbanspoon. For me, though, I stick to one app in particular: Ness.

In November 2011 I reviewed Ness, which I called a “sure fire winner.” Recently, Ness received a major revamp, including a new method for finding recommendations, list creation and more. Find out after the jump if the revamp is an improvement or hindrance to an already fantastic app.

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A New Way to Navigate

Ease of navigation is one of biggest improvements in version 2.0 of Ness, which is accomplished via a hidden navigation menu. Accessed by tapping the menu icon in the upper-left corner, the menu allows you quickly navigate between the app’s many new features. I didn’t have an issue with the navigation scheme prior to the update, but I often find hidden menus to offer a more enjoyable navigation experience.

The hidden navigation menu makes it easy to jump different sections within the app.

The hidden navigation menu makes it easy to jump different sections within the app.

Search & Recommendations

One of my favorite aspects of Ness prior to the recent update was the search interface, in which six cuisines are displayed in tiles and tapping a cuisine provides a list of restaurants from which to choose. This manner of finding restaurants is still available in the app’s Search feature, but Ness now offers a new method of finding your next dining establishment in the form of Recommendations.

The familiar search functionality is still as good as ever.

The familiar search functionality is still as good as ever.

When searching within Recommendations you’ll need to perform three steps, which is done by interacting with three icons in the top menu bar — What, When and Where. In What, you select a cuisine type (e.g. sushi, steak, burger), whether you want something casual or upscale, and whether you can to include places you’ve previously rated. In When, you select either a Now option, which will pick a meal type (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner) based on the current time of day, or you can select a specific meal type in the Later option. In Where, the app will choose your current location (or you can enter a city) and you can change the search radius. Once you’ve made your selections, tap Done.

The What and When steps in the new Recommendations feature.

The What and When steps in the new Recommendations feature.

After a rather fun search input animation, restaurant cards will be displayed. Each card displays general information about the establishment and an estimated likeness rating (or your previously selected ratings), which is all pretty standard. Some cool new features include the ability to dismiss a card, which will eliminate it from future searches, and an option to save a restaurant to a list (done by tapping the Save button or flicking down on the card). Flicking up on a card brings up Go and Share Details features, which allow you to quickly get directions or call a restaurant, or send information about the location to a friend via email or text message.

Cards provide most of the information you need front and center.

Cards provide most of the information you need front and center.

After using Recommendations a handful of times, my fondness for Ness strengthened immensely and my hat is off to the developers. With just a few taps, a search criteria is selected and a list of restaurants tailored to my preferences is loaded for review. I love the use of cards, because it allows me to focus on one restaurant at a time and see the most relevant information all at once. Not to mention that every element of Recommendations is pure eye candy.

Lists

On most occasions, I’ll fire up Ness when I’m in need of feasting. However, there are times when I’m chatting with a friend and they’re going on about a new restaurant I have to try, or my fiancé brings up a local restaurant to which I’ve never been. With the inclusion of lists, Ness is now the place I’ll go when I need to keep track of places I want to visit to in the future. If people often ask you where they should go for a meal, you can create and share a list — a feature only afforded to other Ness users, unfortunately.

Use lists to keep tabs for restaurants you want to try, or when you're in the mood for something particular.

Use lists to keep tabs for restaurants you want to try, or when you’re in the mood for something particular.

Saving restaurants to a list is accomplished by tapping any Save button displayed throughout the app, and then selecting your desired list(s). While you’ll have a few set up automatically, new list categories can be created in the List section or when you’re adding a new place to a list. My only disappointment with the list feature is the inability to add restaurant to a list within the List section; the app requires you to utilize the search function when you want to find and add a specific restaurant to a list.

You can app a place to multiple lists, if desired.

You can app a place to multiple lists, if desired.

Additional Features & Improvements

Previously, Ness required you to sign in with Facebook, which I’m sure was a major bane for many. Now, you can simply create a Ness account by providing a few items of information. However, attaching your Facebook and Foursquare accounts continues to be a plus as Ness now includes a Newsfeed, which displays check-ins and status updates from friends when they’re visiting and/or discussing a restaurant.

If you have friends that use Ness, you'll also see their activity in the Newsfeed.

If you have friends that use Ness, you’ll also see their activity in the Newsfeed.

The new Personalize section is a great place to visit if you want to rate more establishments, which in turn improves Ness’ ability to provide better recommendations. If you check into places with Facebook and/or Foursquare, Ness keeps tabs of them so that you can quickly rate places to which you’ve already been (a great feature for me since I often forget to rate places while I’m there).

To get the most out of Ness, make sure to visit the Personalize section to rate restaurants.

To get the most out of Ness, make sure to visit the Personalize section to rate restaurants.

In my previous review, I discussed the inability to select a specific navigation app when making use of Ness’ directions feature (the app automatically opened the first-party Maps app). The Ness developers have granted my wish, because now when you tap the directions button a list of navigation apps you have installed on your iPhone is displayed. You’ve gotta love choices!

You can now choose which navigation app to use when getting directions.

You can now choose which navigation app to use when getting directions.

The Bottom Line

As much as I love app updates, which is quite a lot, I’m always a tad wary of major updates to my favorites ones. On most occasions the updates end up being an improvement, but I’ve also run into instances in which the update ruined my fondness for the app. Luckily, version 2.0 of Ness falls into the former’s camp. I absolutely adore the Recommendations feature, which simplifies the experience of finding a place to eat to three of the most basic criteria — what, when and where.

If you often use apps like Yelp or Urbanspoon to find places to eat, or don’t use any services of this nature but are in need of one, I strongly urge you to give Ness a trial run. After all, you’ll spend far less time reading through other user’s reviews, which may or may not be valid, and can instead rely on Ness’ ability to determine if a restaurant is good for you based on your own personal tastes.


Summary

Discover new places to eat, socially.

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