Monday, January 16

New smartphone app WebiTap changes dining experience for customers

New smartphone technology allows restaurant customers to explore menus, photos and reviews

UCLA alumnus Jonathan Lee is the co-creator of a web-based app called WebiTap, which provides interactive smartphone menus for local eateries.

UCLA alumnus Jonathan Lee is the co-creator of a web-based app called WebiTap, which provides interactive smartphone menus for local eateries.

Evan Luxenberg

Smartphone users dining in Westwood may soon be able to order their meals without using a physical menu.

WebiTap, a new service developed in part by UCLA students and alumni, allows customers with smartphones to view menus, photos and reviews through a web-based application.

Lucia’s Cafe, located on Le Conte Avenue, started using the service last week. Ami Japanese Restaurant, The Glendon Bar and Kitchen and SanSai Japanese Grill plan to join Lucia’s soon, said Jonathan Lee, a UCLA alumnus and cofounder of WebiTap.

Most businesses only offer downloadable apps that take up space on consumers’ phones, said Edwin Telemi, a fourth-year biology student who helped develop WebiTap.

“(WebiTap) offers an app-like experience without downloading an app,” said Lee, who graduated with a degree in economics in June.

WebiTap uses a form of technology called “near field communication” that is built into some smartphones. The technology detects electromagnetic waves on “smart stickers” placed on tables in restaurants. To access the app, customers tap their phones to the surface of the sticker, which prompts the phone to open the web browser.

Some smartphones ““ like the iPhone ““ are not compatible with near field communication, but customers can still access content by visiting the WebiTap website and entering a four-digit code found on the WebiTap stickers.

Telemi approached Lee with the idea of creating the service about a year ago after reading about near field communication technology during a hospital visit.

To create the service, Lee and Telemi worked with fourth-year history student Madison Poole and Aram Hakopian, a fourth-year biology student at USC.

Cris Becastro, who works at the UCLA Medical Center, said that while WebiTap sounds more useful than normal menus because it has photos of the food, she isn’t sure she would use it.

Lucia’s Cafe manager Ziad Zeitoun, however, said he thinks the app is more useful than websites like Yelp, which he says competitors often use to “bad Yelp” each other.

“It’s completely different,” Zeitoun said. “I see the benefit in this more than any other review site because it is much more objective.”

For people like Sarah Han, a customer at Lucia’s Cafe, the app wouldn’t offer any new information. She said she doesn’t own a smartphone and tends to go to restaurants she is already familiar with.

In the coming months, Lee and Telemi hope to expand their technology to places other than restaurants.

“This is where the future is going,” Telemi said. “There are too many apps than your phone can ever have room for.”

Lee and Telemi approached UCLA Dining Services earlier this month with a proposal to offer the service to students who eat in the residential dining halls, Lee said.

Claudia Luther, a UCLA spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement that Dining Services is still considering whether or not to adopt the service.

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