Lunchwalla Makes Planning a Group Meal Far Less Painful

No, it doesn't cook all the food for you and transport your friends and family to the same place instantaneously. But what Lunchwalla does do -- and do well -- is offer a platform for you, the constant and intrepid planner, to invite a group to lunch (or dinner) with much less hassle than other options.

Group emails that trail on and on endlessly, with your mother or boss hitting "reply all" for every thought that pops into her head and offering no insight into when or where the group should eat, while at the same time taking up your entire inbox? No more. Rounds of phone tag or texting while you try to corral seven people at once into choosing a restaurant? Gone. Instead, you can now use Lunchwalla.

Lunchwalla allows you to plan a group meal in only a few easy steps. Invite the people you want on your lunch date -- coworkers, your bunko group or your grandma's old sorority sisters -- allow them to choose a place from a list you've put together (or suggest their own spot), take a group vote and then go. Your group can also vote on a date and a time, if those beasties haven't been settled yet either.

There's also no need to set up a time-consuming profile or type in email addresses, either. Lunchwalla lets you import all of your contacts from Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, and also lets you directly connect with your already-created Facebook profile.

But Lunchwalla is much more than just a tool to herd cats round up your friends.

It incorporates elements of sites like Yelp and OpenTable, which lets you see information and ratings about each restaurant, find new restaurants based on your preferences, view menus online without going to the restaurant's [undoubtedly slow, horrible Flash-based] website and even make reservations -- if the restaurant takes them. There are even coupons for your favorite restaurants on the right-hand side of the site, so make sure you "clip" and save them to save yourself some dough.

You're also able to save a handy list of your favorite restaurants for quick and easy reference, and your friends on Lunchwalla can choose restaurants that they know you'll like based on your profile. Unlike other restaurant location sites, Lunchwalla is actively looking to be a social networking site as well and has incorporated aspects of Facebook and Foursquare (i.e. comments on your profile and badges that can be earned over time) to that end, to keep things fun.

Lunchwalla is only in its beta phase right now and launched to the public on March 8, but the site is already showing tremendous growth. So go test it out for yourselves -- we did -- and let us know what you think.

(Oh, and you can invite us to lunch, too. If you're paying.)

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Katharine Shilcutt