Vancouver, Canada-based Honeycomb.ai opened up its artificial intelligence (AI)-based web app this week to help diners with food allergies and specific diets navigate restaurant menus. The first version of the service is currently available for users in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
From Honeycomb.ai’s website, a user can select from 29 different allergies or dietary preferences (only two filters can be picked at the same time). Then, after selecting a specific city, the website populates restaurants in the area and menu items that are acceptable based on the selected criteria. I spoke with Honeycomb co-founder Tamir Barzilai by phone this week to learn more about how the company’s algorithm functions. Tamir said the Honeycomb.ai team spent four years training the algorithm to learn what menu items are typically acceptable for different allergies and dietary preferences. Using the name, category, description, and any available metadata of a restaurant menu item found online, the algorithm is able to predict what ingredients will be found in it.
Tamir said that the algorithm is able to do about 90 percent of the work, but there is still some information that needs to be entered manually by the restaurant. After the algorithm makes its predictions, a restaurant must sign up on the Honeycomb platform to verify the accuracy of those menu predictions and add in additional ingredients that the algorithm may not be able to pick up on. For example, if a dish was cooked in butter, but the restaurant’s menu description does not directly state this, so a restaurant would add this to the database for a more complete breakdown of ingredients. Additionally, restaurants can add Honeycomb.ai’s plug-in feature directly to their website to help users find menu items suitable for their diets.
In the U.S., it is estimated that around 32 million people experience food allergies, while 36 percent of Americans follow some type of specific diet. In addition to Honeycomb.ai, there are various companies taking different approaches to make dining out with a food allergy or dietary preferences a more streamlined process. SevenRooms, a company focused on back-of-house restaurant tech, enables restaurants to track customer data to remember important things like food allergies and preferences. Nima, producers of handheld peanut and gluten detectors, conducted gluten and peanut tests on dishes at major restaurant chains and created a map of all “Nima-tested” restaurants.
Honeycomb.ai is currently available as a website and iOS app. The iOS app will be updated with a new version shortly, and the company will also be launching an app for Android in the next few months.