Restaurant guide reinvented

Digital technology finds a place on the printed page in the new Aspen Dining Sourcebook

Amanda Rae
Food Matters

Amid a pandemic might sound like the wrong time to publish a dining guide, but Holly Ruth Finigan has a knack for knowing when to send it. In early spring on the island of Nantucket, Mass., the blACKbook founder watched the restaurant industry change overnight as the coronavirus shut down businesses and forced owners to adapt to new modes of operation. One popular Main Street restaurant, or, The Whale, pivoted away from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to serve dinner only, plus weekend brunch. Unfortunately, or, The Whale’s advertisement in an annual summer catalog highlighted homespun fare served all day—information that was outdated as soon as it was printed in April.

“Their restaurant guide ad had not only become obsolete, it was actually hurting their business,” says Finigan, a master marketer who worked in the food and beverage industry during her first decade in town. “People would come, and they’d be closed.”

Of course, dozens of other venues switched gears, too, turning an old-fashioned service into a publication that was “falsely advertising the entire restaurant community.”

Meanwhile, lifelong Nantucket summer residents Brittany Katz and Courtney Owens launched Cobbleside, a social media platform dedicated to sharing updated information on curbside pickup and delivery in the resort town wracked by changing regulations. Having rebranded blACKbook as Dining Sourcebook and bringing partners Katie Norton (director of operations) and Jeanna Atchinson (director of advocacy) aboard, Finigan teamed up with Cobbleside and Flowcode — design-driven, privacy-protectant QR technology that has emerged as a leader among “contactless solutions” — to create the Dining Sourcebook.

Launched in early August on Nantucket, the glossy, five-by-eight-inch manual is comprehensive: each page features a different restaurant with its own unique Flowcode. Scan the circular code with a smartphone camera and up pops a browser link to the venue’s Flowpage, which “organizes (a) digital footprint.” Links listed on this Flowpage might send a visitor to a website, menu, reservations platform, social media channels, or a contact page, all of it customizable and able to be updated with a few clicks.

Due to the “tremendous success of putting Flowcodes in the book over the summer,” says Flowcode chief revenue officer Jim Norton, the group is launching a special Nantucket holiday version of the Sourcebook while simultaneously expanding into a new market: Aspen.

Starting mid-month, Happy Place will introduce the Aspen Dining Sourcebook, an 80-plus page, all-inclusive, printed restaurant guide that incorporates Flowcode technology. Underwritten by the nonprofit Radical Relief Fund (RRF), which endeavors to support folks struggling with financial instability, the Aspen Dining Sourcebook was produced at no cost to restaurants as a service to the community. (Full disclosure: I helped to edit the book and curated The Roundup, which categorizes restaurants at-a-glance.)

Finigan credits RRF founder and dual Nantucket-Aspen resident Corinne Nevinny with making the expansion possible.

“She saw the effect it had on Nantucket—Flowcodes have become a natural extension of dining out on Nantucket and paper menus almost feel like a thing of the past—and wanted to share it with the Aspen community,” says Finigan, who first visited in 2016. “How can we make sure that this book is mutually nourishing? We can show how a restaurant guide can have a high-consciousness vibe…about what it means to be financially secure enough to eat out.”

Heading into an uncertain winter, we all hope that the Aspen Dining Sourcebook serves as a useful tool for residents and visitors seeking comprehensive, current information on what’s open and available. Wondering what to order for takeout? Simply flip through the book, scan a Flowcode, and find links to menus and ordering information within seconds—no typing of a web address necessary.

Interestingly, Finigan cites screen burnout as another reason to pick up a Sourcebook, available free of charge at hotels, in shops, and on newsstands. “People are at home,” she says. “They want access to the screen, but it would be nice to have something to hold. This is why we made them so beautiful, on recycled paper.”

Unlike on Nantucket, the Sourcebook launch here won’t be a surprise gift for Aspen restaurateurs. Finigan’s team contacted local business owners, as each complimentary Flowcode incorporates a logo in a personalized design. Owners are given access to their unique Flowpage data: scan date, time, location, and which links are most-clicked.

“Over time you can get a pretty good data signal on what those diners are engaging with, so restaurants can make informed decisions,” Norton explains. Similarly, users seeking information are able to avoid a pitfall of traditional QR codes, widely adopted in Asia some 30 years: “We are not capturing any personally identifiable information.”

While Flowcode predates COVID-19, the technology has only grown more useful in recent months as businesses seek to link “the physical, brick-and-mortar with digital efficiency,” Norton says. Launched in November 2019 by dtx company (founded by Tim Armstrong, former AOL CEO), Flowcode showed early promise in the restaurant sphere, helping customers connect with menus, make reservations, purchase merchandise, and find social media channels, all listed on a single Flowpage. Now, coronavirus has created a new consideration for restaurant-goers: safety.

“Diners should feel safe when going to a restaurant that’s using Flowcode,” Norton says. “They should be able to have a friction-free, seamless dining experience. That’s what we saw on Nantucket: despite the restrictions and endless amount of protocol, once you’re sitting at a table (scanning menu codes), it felt pretty normal.”

Even with reduced staff, shortened hours, limited capacity, or closure, retailers can use Flowpages to enhance service to customers, who might hop in a virtual queue to receive a text message when it’s their turn to enter a store or sign up for a newsletter or reopening update.

The Dining Sourcebook team set its sights toward the Rockies with intention: to create a modern restaurant guide and prove its value before asking anything of Aspen.

“I would never come into another community without the support from real locals,” says Finigan, ticking off a list of Aspen collaborators including Nevinny, RRF executive director Nicky Byrne, photographer Tara Marolda, event planner Juls Sharpley, and “community connectors” Katherine Sand and Katherine “KK” Kendrick. “For the second 5,000 copies that come out in January, anyone who wants to be part of the conscious advertising opportunity has the ability to get Flowcode marketing and their ad in the book. We’d love to make this stick around for a long time.”

Amanda Rae is the editor of “The Aspen Cookbook,” out now as a fundraiser for local restaurants.


The Aspen Dining Sourcebook

December 2020

Scan this Flowcode with a smartphone camera to learn more:

[image of Flowcode]