For some reason I still can't quite discern, Tender, the "Tinder for food," is in the news again. It's being reported on as if it just landed in the app store yesterday, with regional CBS affiliates declaring that there's "now" a food app analogous to Tinder. "Now" was last summer, when Tender's buzz peaked. Back then, it'd just been launched by three recent grads who'd met as freshmen at the College of Charleston in South Carolina; the app even got some breathless coverage from Forbes. Today, I downloaded it for the first time today and spent a few minutes with it.
The app's got some mixed messaging, promising an experience that's at once utilitarian and passive. "Tender is the easiest way to source the world’s most beautiful and delicious culinary delights," the website boasts. "In this day in age [sic], food is about more than just calories, it is art." It continues: "We understand that most people know what they want to eat when they see it; with Tender’s easy swipe-to-save interface, finding your dinner has never been easier."
Anyway, the app is good. I like it. Nothing about the experience feels arrhythmic; the onboarding process is smooth and intuitive and everything you'd want! There's a constant footer with five options—FoodFeed, a posting option, discovery (with the swiping options; you're automatically thrown to this page when you first download the app), a notifications tab, and a profile page. The app auto-populates your FoodFeed with posts from each of Tender's three team members—you're automatically following them, and they're following you back, too. Each of the founders has 509k followers (which is, presumably, the app's whole user base).
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The recipes I saw were for sidecars and vegan buffalo wings, from users with such nondescript names as "Recipeforperfection and "Everydaydishes". Through the process of swiping, you can tap a given recipe before selecting or discarding it and view its ingredient list. If you hit "View Full Recipe," you're taken to a web page with the recipe on it. You can upload a recipe yourself directly from the app. You can share your posts to Twitter or Facebook, and you can look through the directory of users. (No one I know is using it, but I don't know that many people.)
There is—clearly—a lot to do here. But what appeal does social food have to someone who isn't social? Presumably, as the app description suggests, it's that Pavlovian visual stimulation you get when you see photos of food. I have found this social propensity for—ugh—"food porn" doesn't do much for me, either, and is certainly not enough to justify an app's place on my phone's precious bandwidth.
The idea of "social food" can be anathema if you are voluntarily hermetic like me; cooking is an intensely private activity, for I'm shy and insecure about it. I've never had any desire to broadcast this practice to anyone. I'd like to fail alone, in the comforts of my own home. And yet I found that this app has something for those of us who are fundamentally averse to human contact. It's quite fun to be presented with an array of dishes I'd like to cook. Instead of expending a ton of labor sourcing recipes on my own, these recipes just fall upon my lap. How convenient.
Worryingly, activity seems to be somewhat dormant on the app; the most recent post on my feed, from one of the founders, was from 5 months ago. The link to the blog has gone dead. The company's last Twitter post was in June. I hope this app survives—the "everyone" feed had some activity from today—because I think I'd like to keep it.
Have you used Tender before? Have another favorite food app? Is it ours?! Let us know in the comments!
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.