2014 | Dine

Spotluck Founders Look toward D.C. to Expand Local Restaurant Discount App

The free app offers users discounts as high as 35 percent at locally-owned restaurants simply by spinning a virtual wheel

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Spotluck founders Brad Sayler, left, and Cherian Thomas, right

Andrew Metcalf

In today’s flooded market of phone apps, it’s hard to pick a winner from the thousands of losers.

But local businessmen Cherian Thomas and Brad Sayler have high hopes for their local restaurant discount app Spotluck.

The two have already signed up more than two dozen restaurants in Woodmont Triangle and the Bethesda Row area in Bethesda and Rockville Town Square to participate in the app that allows users to spin a virtual wheel to receive a discount as high as 35 percent off their bill at a specific restaurant.

Now, the founders are looking to District neighborhoods and northern Virginia to expand the app’s presence.

“Right now we’re focused on Bethesda and D.C.,” Sayler said. “We’re also going into fundraising mode to do the D.C. market right.”

Sayler said the men are looking at 30 to 50 neighborhoods in D.C., Arlington and Alexandria to create hubs on the app.

A Spotluck hub is a group of neighborhood restaurants that appear on the wheel. For example, the Woodmont Triangle hub includes Grapeseed, Roof, Yamas, 4935 Kitchen & Bar, Brickside and other restaurants in close proximity to each other. The reasoning behind the hubs, Thomas says, is that most people tend to eat out at restaurants near their homes.

The app makes money by charging restaurants $1 for each person who uses the app at a given restaurant.

“We think it’s a fair and reasonable pricing model,” Thomas said. “If we perform, guess what, I think we earned it. We brought people to the restaurant.” 

The app works by allowing users to take one spin per day on the Spotluck wheel. The app then provides the largest discount to whichever restaurant a user lands on, but also provides a smaller discount, currently 10 percent, to the other restaurants inside a hub.

However, the discounts are not always the same. They change based on algorithms that account for factors such as how busy a restaurant may be at a certain time, what the weather is like and if a restaurant is holding a special event. For example, a restaurant may offer a smaller discount on a Friday night because it already expects to be busy, compared to a more quiet time such as a Tuesday afternoon.

Thomas, a Bethesda resident who recently received an executive masters in leadership from Georgetown University, says he came up with the idea for Spotluck while working on a long-term project at the business school. While ironing out the details, he says he realized its potential to market local businesses and make money and told his professor he didn’t want to share it with the university.

From there he secured patents for the technology and brought in his friend, Sayler, who was working as a corporate attorney, to work full-time on Spotluck. The app went live at Rockville’s Hometown Holidays celebration in May.

The founders have also figured out ways to provide additional benefits to the merchants who do business with them. Each restaurant that joins the app is given an iPad, which includes the Spotluck merchant app that allows restaurant managers to view the demographics of people who use the app’s discounts at their restaurants as well as read customer reviews. But unlike other online review services, those reviews only go to the restaurant.

“It’s really user-friendly from a business standpoint,” said Tom Voskuil, general manager of Roof, one of the restaurants signed up by Spotluck. Voskuil said he likes the app more than established online services such as OpenTable.

“I think it’s great,” Voskuil said. “I like the fact that it’s super local. Its users are people who are literally right here.”

The company employs three people full time, including Sayler and Thomas, but also enlists more than a dozen volunteers to promote the app in Bethesda and Rockville. Sayler said Spotluck expects to have 5,000 users by the end of September.

Thomas hopes the business can find success by mobilizing a group of “Spotluckers” who spin the wheel daily to solve their “dining dilemmas.”

“Spotluckers will be a culture,” Thomas said.