Before the Entrees, Apps to Winnow Choices and Find Seats

Smartphones have made it simple to find a restaurant at the last minute. The gastronomic triumvirate of Urbanspoon, Yelp and OpenTable each have well-designed mobile apps for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone users, and they’re all free.

For a reservation, though, there once was pretty much just one choice: OpenTable. It can be a lifesaver when you call a restaurant on the road, only to be told that OpenTable is the only way to reserve. (Crazy but true.)

Some restaurants, smaller ones in particular, balk at OpenTable’s equipment and service fees, though, so the selection can sometimes fall short.

More choices are on the horizon. Urbanspoon, which made a name for itself with an ingenious iPhone app that greatly simplified a restaurant search, late last year offered restaurants mobile apps for taking reservations more cheaply than on OpenTable.

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