Can an app make it easier to dine out with dietary restrictions?

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Bagels in baskets with signs reading "we have gluten free wraps and bagels"
Photo: Jeff Greenberg (Getty Images)

You’re on the hunt for gluten-free takeout. Easy enough. But what if you need dairy-free, gluten-free, kosher takeout—and you also have a severe mushroom allergy? New Vancouver startup Honeycomb.ai wants to make your life a little easier by “eliminating the frustrating process of manual menu parsing by creating a portal for anyone with dietary needs to find suitable food to eat.”

According to press release sent to The Takeout, Honeycomb is an artificial intelligence software platform that alleviates the struggles of dining out for people with dietary needs, severe allergies, and lifestyle preferences alike. “The typical ingredient-tetris bottleneck played between guest and server while dining out has amplified during COVID-19,” the release explained. “Growth in online ordering and takeout has prompted customers with dietary needs to search online for dietary answers more than ever before.” But that’s much easier said than done, especially when restaurants fail to label their dietary information.

Honeycomb’s algorithm learns from “internal training processes,” user feedback, and restaurant input to showcase restaurants and individual food items that one or more of the following criteria: vegan, vegetarian, celiac-friendly, gluten-free, ketogenic, paleo, kosher, halal, and Low-FODMAP. The AI also identifies the 29 most common allergens, allowing users with allergies to eliminate any potentially dangerous dishes.

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“One of the most challenging aspects of accommodating dietary needs is the different levels of severity,” Honeycomb founder Tamir Barzilai said in the release. “Someone might simply dislike mushrooms, or they may be mildly intolerant to dairy, or they may have a severe anaphylactic reaction to shellfish by means of cross-contamination. We’ve built this sense of severity into our software.”

Can you put all of your trust in artificial intelligence if you have a severe food intolerance or allergy? Probably not, no. If you’re grappling with severe dietary restrictions, it’s definitely still key to give the restaurant a call to confirm its menu can meet your needs. But tools like Honeycomb could make it easier to wade through a sea of online menus, helping you find a new favorite dish—especially when traveling. See for yourself: the software’s first phase is live, currently available for users in Canada, Australia, and the United States, and a “robust mobile experience” is reportedly on the way.