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Renzell App Restaurant Rankings Debuts in Chicago To Compete With Michelin

Rankings also launch in San Francisco after debuting last year in New York

Renzell will use a smartphone app to rank restaurants like Alinea.
Renzell will use a smartphone app to rank restaurants like Alinea.
Matthew Gilson
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

After launching last year in New York, Renzell, a new app-based restaurant ranking —meant to compete with Michelin and The World's 50 Best— is debuting in Chicago today. The initial rankings include 54 fine-dining restaurants that have been open for at least two years. As the dataset grows with information and live feedback from a hopefully growing user base, Renzell hopes to provide diners with metric-based rankings free of unwarranted biases, the ones that founder Bo Peabody said plagues older rankings.

"We're being completely transparent with what we're doing with our technology and what we're asking in the questions in our surveys," Peabody said.

Renzell also launches today in San Francisco, and used 32 attributes such as service, cocktail program and quality of food to determine their initial list. They also ask members questions to help determine their expertise which is then applied that to their company's ranking algorithm: "So if I know that you don't care about cocktails and you gave the Aviary a low cocktail score, I'm going to weigh it lower," Peabody said.

Peabody is a New Hampshire native and venture capitalist who owns a handful of restaurants in the Northeast. While many metric-based systems could be gamed, the staff at Renzell is trying to protect from that. For example, the media and anyone with a restaurant affiliation is barred from Renzell membership; users have to apply to contribute. This, in theory, would lead to a more diverse crop of restaurants. There are sharp criticisms delivered that white, male chefs dominate other rankings. The goal is to assemble a sizable (not overwhelming), sophisticated and engaged group of members and restaurants. The company also sees it as a way to give restaurants feedback.

"The problems that we saw with Michelin were an inspiration for us," Peabody said.

Renzell will launch an incentive program to motivate members to use the app as it will take time to build useful data. The company's held private events, offered giveaways and discounts to Soul Cycle to entice members to start ranking restaurants. They've built a user base of about 1,000 members in New York. Renzell hasn't turned a profit yet — restaurants don't pay to appear on the list. Instead members can purchase points for the loyalty program to level up and reach goals at a fast pace.They're also selling the restaurant data to restaurants.

Renzell will release official rankings annually every September and will also release preview reports that will give users look-ins, said Peabody. They'll release that initial first look in January for Chicago. They've targeted 15 to 20 markets in the U.S. Los Angles, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta/Miami are next. National rankings are also on their way.

Peabody made up the word "Renzell," saying that Marketing 101 meant creating a brand from the ground up. If well received, Renzell will eventually add more to the 54-restaurant list and would remove restaurants. Restaurants must serve alcohol and accept reservations for consideration. The former knocked out Schwa, Peabody noted. Another curious omission is Fat Rice. Check out Renzell's freshman class for Chicago below and see if Renzell will usher in the next generation of restaurant rankings.

  1. Acadia
  2. Acanto
  3. Alinea
  4. Balena
  5. Bavette's Bar and Boeuf
  6. Blackbird
  7. Bohemian House
  8. Boka
  9. Brindille
  10. Charlatan
  11. Dusek's Board and Beer
  12. Fulton Market Kitchen
  13. Gather
  14. Gilt Bar
  15. Girl and the Goat
  16. Grace
  17. Green Zebra
  18. Homestead on the Roof
  19. Juno
  20. Kai Zan
  21. Kinmont
  22. La Sirena Clandestina
  23. Lula Cafe
  24. Maude's Liquor Bar
  25. Mfk Restaurant
  26. Mirai
  27. MK
  28. Momotaro
  29. Naha
  30. Next
  31. Nico Osteria
  32. NoMI
  33. Osteria Langhe
  34. Owen and Engine
  35. Parachute
  36. Pelago
  37. Perennial Virant
  38. The Publican
  39. Pump Room
  40. RL
  41. Sepia
  42. Spiaggia
  43. Sumi Robata
  44. Sushi Dokku
  45. Table, Donkey and Stick
  46. Tanta
  47. The Boarding House
  48. The Dawson
  49. The Kitchen
  50. Topolobampo
  51. Travelle
  52. Trencherman
  53. TRU
  54. Two