From left, Dominick Allen, ‘20, Cameron Cipriano, ‘21, William Peracchio, ‘21, and John Cunningham, ‘21, presented their project at the Baker Institute's "Innovate, Celebrate!" awards event on Tuesday, April 23 2019, at Iacocca Hall. The team created Preff, a dining app where you can share dining plans with a group of people. (Courtesy of the Baker Institute)

Calling all social media influencers: new app allows for socializing through meals

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In recent years, social media has frequently been viewed as a negative influence on social interaction rather than a means of connecting people.

However, one Lehigh-based startup is working to change that.

Last year, Dominick Allen, ‘20, Cameron Cipriano, ‘21, William Peracchio, ‘21, and John Cunningham, ‘21, began to work on a dining app called Preff.

“We started off as a custom menu where whenever you walked into a restaurant it would conform to your preferences and it would be customized to every place you went.” Cunningham said.

Since then, they have changed direction and created an app that aims to promote social interaction. Allen said part of the reason they got rid of the idea of customized menus or anything people would interact with while in the restaurant is because they don’t want users to be on phones when they are with other people.

Preff is a way to share lunch or dinner plans with a large group of people, such as a club, student organization or fraternity. Anyone can join, allowing people to socialize and get to know each other better.

“A lot of people notice that with existing social media products, they get distracted, they feel like the social media isn’t really working for them because the way Facebook and Instagram and all the existing social media make money is by ads, by distracting you, and not surprisingly, they’re really good at that,” Cunningham said. “And so what we said was, ‘Why don’t we build a social meet-up network? One where we would get incentivized and one where you would get rewarded when you were social and met up with people.’”

Along the way, the Preff team has faced the difficulties of balancing their startup with full academic schedules and extracurriculars.

“When we were doing this full time over the summer through a program called The Hatchery, it was really useful to be able to dedicate our entire being toward this idea for a couple of months, and I think part of us all kind of wants to have that back,” Allen said. “It was a really great experience.”

The Hatchery is an entrepreneurship program run by the Baker Institute where students can spend the summer developing their startup ideas.

“Being that we went through the Hatchery program, one of the challenges was that we wanted to do so much in such a short time,” Cipriano said.

While Preff is not currently available for download, recent testing have been promising, according to the team.

Cunningham said they ran a test with about 50 people in their fraternity, Sigma Phi Delta, and found that they always get five or so people to come along. He said it made it easier for people to dine out and meet different people in their organization, promote unity, be social and, of course, enjoy food.

The app also allows restaurants to communicate with customers and several local restaurants have agreed to beta-test Preff once it is launched.

“Basically, the incentive for them, and we’re looking at a subscription model, is that they can get hyper-targeted advertising,” Peracchio said.

Cunningham said out of 50 people in the test group, four people decided half of all lunch and dinner plans in an entire month, so it allows restaurants to focus their messaging toward people who are influencers, or as they call them, “din-fluencers.”

Going forward, the members of Preff hope to make their app available to more interested Lehigh groups, eventually moving to the Bethlehem community and beyond.

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