Entrepreneurs hop to it with online menu service
Like most people, Andrew Ruditser likes to dine out with friends. And as a creature of habit, he tends to eat at the same reliable standbys.

It’s not that he wouldn’t try a new venue. In fact, he’s noticed a number of appealing eateries while driving around Long Island. But Ruditser isn’t one to pull over, look for parking and check out the menu.

Online searches didn’t help. Many of the Web sites and local restaurant directories were either outdated or didn’t provide the details he sought.

Ruditser figured he wasn’t the only one frustrated by this lack of information. To him, it seemed more than likely that restaurateurs would want a format to attract audiences they weren’t reaching.

In July 2005, Ruditser and his business partner, Mark Aiossa, created Melville-based MenuFrog. The company helps dining patrons find restaurants through its Web site, www.MenuFrog.com.

The Web site lists restaurants by cuisine, location and “special category,” including venues that deliver, provide outdoor seating, are situated on the water or are accessible by boat. Currently, the site lists 1,200 restaurants, most of which were obtained through cold-calling; some restaurants, however, listed after learning about MenuFrog through word of mouth.

The partners invested more than $50,000 in developing and marketing the site and employing 11 staffers.

Restaurants can post their menus for free, or for, $35, MenuFrog will enter the information for them. Or, they can advertise on the site and post an in-depth restaurant description and history as well as pictures, coupons and vouchers. Though revenues will build based on the advertisers (the company currently has eight), the free listings are “also important to us,” Ruditser said. The site is “geared to serving the general public.

“Basic listings will always be free,” he said. “They add to the robustness.”

The listings also help build buzz among restaurateurs. “The more they hear about us, they’ll hopefully advertise at another level,” Rudister said.

MenuFrog will stay in touch with restaurateurs, making sure their venues are still in business and that their listings are current, he added. The partners are also seeking corporate sponsors to link to the site.

For consumers, the site features a “My MenuFrog” section, which when fully functioning will allow visitors to store their favorite restaurants, receive newsletters and read and post reviews of restaurants. “When peer reviewers tell me they like something, I’ll probably like it too,” Ruditser noted.

The company currently gets between 600 and 1,000 hits daily, said Ruditser, who also owns an IT company, Maxburst Technologies, which designed and maintains the site. The companies share the same office suite.

Once MenuFrog secures 1,500 listings, Ruditser will “start marketing heavily.” Any fewer listings would simply be premature. “We wouldn’t want people to look at it and find nothing,” he noted.

To grow the company, Ruditser is counseled by a Small Business Development Center advisor at Farmingdale State University. He also plans to build buzz through a public relations campaign.

Ruditser has already received calls from restaurateurs in New York City, where he plans to expand once he’s succeeded in Nassau and Suffolk. MenuFrog’s business model would work nationally, he believes, but, “We’d need venture capital to get to that level.”

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