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Picky eaters need not join 

New mobile-based startup helps diners make a decision already

It's a conversation couples and friends have probably been having since the concept of going out to eat arose.

You: I'm hungry.

Him/Her: Me too.

You: Let's go out to eat.

Him/Her: OK. What do you feel like eating?

You: I don't know. What do you feel like eating?

Him/Her: I don't know.

You: You don't ever know.

Him/Her: Well, I picked last time. It's your turn.

You: I don't know. Italian?

Him/Her: Nah.

You: Thai?

Him/Her: Nah.

You: Well, what do you feel like eating?

Him/Her: I don't know.

You: Forget it. I'm not hungry anymore.

It's safe to assume a fair number of arguments have resulted from just such an exchange.

Whether they intended to or not, a group of Charlotte entrepreneurs are bringing a new service to the market that will help better the relationships of people who fight over choosing where to go out to eat.

Phyrefly (phyrefly.com) is a mobile Web-based program, similar to Priceline, in that it helps local restaurants fill seats during off-peak hours and days of the week by offering an incentive for diners, a discount up to 40 percent off their meal. For a sense of adventure and to help restaurants maintain brand integrity, diners don't actually know where they're going to until after they've made selections on neighborhood, price points, the type of food and star rating.

Basically, no more pressure to choose where to go out to eat — Phyrefly does it for you. (Cue the sighs of relief from couples.)

The program just launched its beta phase, and diners can now sign up for an account. During this soft launch, the restaurants in the program are limited to those in the Plaza Midwood and Dilworth areas.

"We're finding that they're more tech savvy and more open to different technology solutions and a little more forward thinking, if you will," says Kaitlin Krogh, co-founder and president.

One of those featured restaurants is JJ's Red Hots. "As a small business owner I'm always interested in hearing new ideas, especially in our business, which is a very old business," says JJ's owner Jon Luther. "The biggest benefit for me was trying to drive those between meal periods, specifically between lunch and dinner."

Luther says there's low investment on his end, and as far as service fees, Phyrefly gets paid on a per head basis — $1.30 to $2.30 a head, based on entree price. That's in comparison to the $7 per head the restaurant reservation service OpenTable charges.

The proprietor of the East Boulevard hot dog joint also admits being interested in tapping into the audience the service is targeting. "The lifestyle of the people on the platform is attractive to me," Luther says. "Professionals with little bit higher income, between 21 and 45, are a very coveted demographic today. Everyone is trying to figure out how to reach them and technology seems to be leading the way."

In the startup world, Phyrefly has already gotten a lot of positive feedback and investor interest. The company was accepted into RevTech Labs, a 12-week incubator program that works to get a startup investor ready, and was awarded MVP at OneSpark, the world's largest crowdfunding festival that took place in Florida last month. Phyrefly won that distinction out of 550 projects.

What makes the project so cool is that it's all about championing local restaurants who are offering an "exceptional dining experience," whether they're fast-casual or high-end. When I ask Krogh to share an example of what that looks like in Charlotte, the 30-year-old immediately references Halcyon, adjacent to the Mint Museum.

"I remember one time they had Korean barbecue pig ears, and it was just so out of my comfort zone, but it really knocked my socks off. I would tell my friends about Halcyon and they'd be like, I haven't heard of this place, where is this place, and it killed me that nobody really knew this place existed. That was a definite inspiration for the project. The food that they're doing is creative and interesting and I think everyone should try it."

Each restaurant member of the service has Phyrefly's stamp of approval based on personal experience. The team (comprised of Krogh and her husband Josh, Jay Flood and a silent partner) has actually eaten there. "To give you an idea, I've gained 20 pounds since I started," Krogh says good-naturedly. "It's happy weight."

Krogh says the project was intended to help keep some of their own favorite restaurants thriving. "We're foodies and we love to eat out. We were inspired because we go out to eat all the time and noticed some of our favorite restaurants were dead or half empty. We're like, how are these restaurants going to stay in business? So this was really a selfish endeavor. We want to support our favorite places to keep them open for people to keep coming back again and again."

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