How one banker ditched finance to start “the Tinder of food”

By Kitty Knowles 1 March 2016
Charles Fattouche, co-founder of Food Mood, the Tinder for food. Pic: Food Mood.

Food Mood co-founder Charles Fattouche quit his VP job at Barclays to feed his entrepreneurial appetite.

Food. It’s indulgent, inspiring, social, soothing. But the experience can be totally ruined if you pick the wrong dining spot, or even worse, if you spend hours roaming the streets – or browsing the web – looking for the perfect eatery while your stomach is empty and your patience is low.

Now though, there’s an app to remove your pre-indulgence panic.

Food Mood, launched in September 2015, was founded by Frenchmen Charles Fattouche and Mehdi Kheloufi-Trabaud, after they decided to swap their worlds of finance for food. 

“When your working in a very large corporation, it’s difficult to feel that you make a difference,” Fattouche, former VP of Systematic Strategies Research at Barclays, told The Memo.

“Just being ‘entry number X’ is not exactly the type of dream job that I had in mind when I was younger.”

Food Mood co-founders Charles Fattouche (left) & Mehdi Kheloufi-Trabaud (Right). Pic: Food Mood.

The “Tinder of food”

Instead of listing reams of abstracted restaurant names and descriptions, Food Mood shows you pictures.

Like you might on dating app Tinder, you’re then invited to swipe left or right on photos of dishes you fancy or not (that’s ‘Yuk’ or ‘Yum’). After about 10 swipes, an algorithm then tailors a finite list of venues nearby to satisfy your tastebuds for that particular moment.

“I’m passionate about food in many ways,” said Fattouche on what inspired Food Mood. “Yes I’m French, but I also used to have my own recipe blog and I naturally spend more time cooking dishes myself because I’m intolerant to gluten and dairy products.”

“The finance space is also quite advanced in terms of the way it analyses all kinds of data,” he adds.

“I wanted to apply all my knowledge in the algorithms and all the maths knowledge I’ve learned from the years in finance to a different field.”

The Food Mood app. Pic: Food Mood.
The Food Mood app. Pic: Food Mood.

Picture-first dining

There is a big problem with existing dining apps, says Fattouche. “Typically you have to enter criteria, a budget, a type of food, a location and then it gives you a long list of restaurant names to choose between, which is difficult,” he explains.

“Also, today you may be in the mood for sushi and tomorrow you may want burgers, but apps like Foursquare will always show you recommendations based on permanent tags.”

Food Mood however, simply shows you a series of pictures to instinctively choose between and will always reset your preferences each time you login. (There are now over 15,000 images from more than 700 restaurants across London, with new venues added every day)

“We think food pictures area much more natural way to start a restaurant search,” says Fattouche of the picture-first method.

“We want to help people find the right place to eat out in a very efficient and mouthwatering way: Food Mood reads your tummy in real time and tells you where to eat.”

A smart dining service

While the app appears simple on the surface, there’s a lot going on underneath, says Fattouche.

“Food Mood is only ‘the Tinder of food’ from the users’ point of view: in the app backend, our algorithm learns what you like and dislike.

“If you ‘Yum’ a lobster spaghetti dish from an Italian restaurant the app already knows multiple things: either you’re in the mood for lobster, or you’re in the mood for seafood, or you’re in the mood for pasta, or you’re in the mood for Italian food generally.

“Through this it learns what you want in that moment, it’s a lot more than Tinder.”

Clever app for couples

Dining out is rarely a solo gig, of course, and Fattouche has plans to help meet your mutual need.

“In the coming months we’d like to enable couples to start with swiping on their own phones, not necessarily at the same time, but they will see the same sequence of dishes and then depending on what both like the app will create a list of restaurants matching both foods,” he says.

Booking business model

Another exciting step forward will be the embedding of a booking service so that users can progress from thinking about dinner, to the dinner table itself.

“We want to offer people from the discovery process right through to the actual booking. We are currently in discussion with several well-known booking systems which offer partnerships with smaller apps like ours.

“Then we’ll also take a cut of the commission they receive from each restaurant each time they provide a reservation through us.”

Should other bankers leap into new businesses?

More and more people are swapping banking to start their own businesses, says Fattouche. “I do see a trend, not just in finance but in all big firms, where people want to do more meaningful with their working life, and enjoy more what they do day to day,” he explains.

“Obviously you trade in your security and the money, but you enter a much more exciting space where you can be really devote yourself and develop your own skills.”

“My wife is pregnant with our first child so it does create some kind of tension in your personal life when you move to something a bit more risky, which you have to be comfortable with,” he explains.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I would have regretted not having done it.”