Talk me through the menu – recipe app idea

Recipe and cooking apps are aplenty, but it is hard to use an app while cooking and having wet or dirty hands. This may not be a big deal to experienced cooks, but for the beginners it is a catch 22. They want to follow the recipe, but get lost between steps, timing and multiple things that sometimes need to happen in parallel. Technology to the rescue.

Imagine a pasta cooking application on an iPhone. You pick a recipe, chose how soft you would like it and what sauce you would like to make for the pasta. Finally, before you start, you put your Bluetooth headset in and say “Start”. Application, recognizes the key phrase and starts walking you through the recipe. The sequence will - roughly -  look something like this:

  1. (App): Put the water to high-heat and add salt to it. When ready, say “Next”
  2. (Cook): Does the steps, says “Next”
  3. (App): Now that we are waiting for water to boil, let’s start cooking sauce. If the water boils, please say “Boiled”.
  4. (App): Let’s start with the sauce, please collect X, Y and Z ingredients together; when you are ready, say “Chop”.
  5. (App, 5 minutes later): How is pasta water going, remember to say “Boiled” when it is boiling.
  6. (Cook): “Boiled”
  7. (App): Great, now let’s add pasta slowly; when done say “Cooking”
  8. (Cook): Adds the pasta, says “Cooking”
  9. (App): Great, we now have about 10 minutes, let’s continue with our sauce, you were doing Step C
  10. ….
  11. (App, 8 minutes later): In about two meetings it might be a good time to check on pasta, I’ll remind you then.
  12. (App, another 2 minutes later): Let’s look at that pasta. Pull out a piece and bite it. Say “Ready” if it feels just chewy enough, otherwise say “More cooking”
  13. (Cook): “More cooking”
  14. (App): No worries, let’s finish off the sauce while we wait for the pasta.
  15. ……

The basic idea is simple, let the application walk you through the instructions and voice recognition to control it. Bluetooth headset means the interaction can happen without having to switch between the cooking and looking the steps up, though of course the current step(s) can also be displayed on the screen. To keep things interesting, the app can also play music or tell little stories about ingredients.

Enough for the idea, now let’s think about making it a viable application people would pay money for:

  1. Let’s start with a free application that has 3 starter dishes that can be prepared separately, but will demonstrate the parallel-cooking capability if prepared together as a full meal. The free app will mean more people will try it out, thus driving the visibility.
  2. Now that people can see the app’s benefit, they can buy sets of recipes using in-app purchase. The sets can be based on style (Italian, Thai, Japanese), theme (Xmas, Thanksgiving), time of day (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) or dietary requirements (Atkins, vegan, South Beach).
  3. In addition to the recipe purchases, there could be a Pro version. One feature would then be asking how many burners are available and optimizing for that. Another feature would offer ingredient substitution.

This gives us a core behavior, but the apps work best if they have some sort of engagement/gamification built-in. Let’s see what experiences we can add outside of kitchen time:

  1. A successful application will have new recipes issued (programmed/voiced) over time. Let’s allow people who are using applications to vote on which recipes should be made available next. And to drive users to the application, this voting can only be done inside the application, though the results should be show on the application’s website. This specifically means that recipes can be voiced just in time based on the demand and voting results.
  2. To encourage voting, give away a small number of winning recipes to the people who voted for them, either randomly or for the first person to vote the recipe up.
  3. Similarly, allow people to vote on how difficult a particular recipe is, how much they like it and other normal features found on the recipe websites.
  4. The gamification principles would obviously give us a score board for cook-offs where friends could try a particularly challenging recipe or reward points/badges for doing a recipe or progressing from easy to hard recipes.

Not all the money has to come from the end users. Once enough people download the application, the usual cross-promotion and third-party revenue streams become viable:

  1. An application can offer sponsored recipes for free (“Brought to you by X”).
  2. Recipes may use using product placements (“Brand X sweet chile sauce”)
  3. Affiliate and referral fees can be earned by creating ingredients packages and sending the users to online-shops to buy them
  4. Finally, white-label services can be offered to other recipe magazines or books to show off several of their recipes and drive people to buy the full book/magazine

We know such an application is possible. Now somebody just needs to make it real.