A decade ago, having your cell phone out at a restaurant would have been viewed as rude. Today, while still frowned upon, it’s becoming more commonplace for people to check-in when at a restaurant, tag their friends, or snap photos of food and immediately post them onto Facebook.
In the recent years we’ve seen the rise of gourmet food trucks such as Kogi BBQ, lardon (bacon truck) , and The Shrimp Pimp Truck. We’ve also seen how social buying web sites such as Groupon have shaken up how far businesses and restaurants are willing to discount (for better or for worst), and how the big boys, Google and Facebook are jumping the game as well.
This year feels a little different though. While food trucks and social deal web sites are still very hot, it seems like social meals and group dining have picked-up legs. Anyone that knows me, knows that I have a habit of checking into restaurants that I eat at. It’s not so much that I’m obsessed, which I might be, but more that I’m curious to see what other patrons are recommending and how restaurants are embracing social media. With many people now more comfortable than ever checking in and broadcasting to the world their locations via apps such as 4sq, Yelp, and Facebook, meeting up and eating with strangers from the Internet doesn’t seem as scary or creepy as it would have a decade ago.
In comes the concept of social meals and group dining. Social dining comes in many flavors. First off, there’s the underground supper clubs such as Chef Craig Thornton’s Wolvesmouth that hosts amazing multi-course dinners and randomly raffles off seats to its email list. And then there are pop-up shops such as Chef Christian Navarro’s Haute Skillet that have setup everywhere from backyards to tattoo shops and provide amazing food for free (with donations recommended of course).
And now come social dining websites such as LetsLunch.com and GrubWithUs.com. I recently had the opportunity to join in on a GrubWithUs dinner that took place in Los Angeles at Haru Sushi. What exactly is GrubWithUs? The concept is pretty interesting. You browse through a list of hosted dinners in your area, find one that you like, and then buy a ticket for that dinner.
Some dinners are hosted by interests, such as “hiking,” “tech,” or “laughing” and others just free-for-alls. Most dinners come with a set menu served family style and host a party between 5-10 people. Tickets run approximately $20-$35 per meal and I believe the price goes up as a meal becomes more popular and less seats remain. If you’re interesting in learning more about the people you’ll be dining with, you can also browse their GrubWithUs profiles before the dinner. In my case, our group consisted of an attorney, a Disney exec, an organizer of very well known union in the US and GrubWithUs co-founder Daishin himself.
How was the GrubWithUs experience? Great! Besides the amazing food and the two extra rolls the Chef made for us on top of the fixed menu at Haru Sushi (aka one of the best sushi places in LA), the dinner was filled with good old-fashioned conversation, everything ranging from favorite travel spots, to restaurants, to work, family and hobbies. By the end of the evening we were all stuffed and it felt as if we’d known each other for more than 2 hours.
So if you’re looking for a different way to dine, network, and meet some new people grab a friend or go solo and check out GrubWithUs (invite link).
For restaurant owners, GrubWithUs is currently rolling out to more cities in the US. If your city is on the list, you’ll want to check them out as another channel to market your business. A complaint many businesses have about deal sites such as Groupon is that they’re not necessarily attracting the highest caliber of customers who will become repeat customers, but rather the bargain hunters. The benefit with GrubWithUs is that it does seem to bring in a different clientele of people who are looking to enjoy a good meal and conversation.