It’s no secret that “underground” dinner parties have been all the rage for the past few years. In fact, they’ve become so popular that the clandestine nature that initially made these culinary gatherings so appealing has fallen to the wayside.
Now, instead of relying on the mysterious nature of exclusive invites, secret menus and bizarre locations to bring diners forth, companies are openly advertising and promoting their organized meals to the masses. Grubwithus—launching in Austin this month—is a dinner party-focused company making the transition "above ground" better than most, by keeping the invitation open, the groups unacquainted and the food served at well-lauded restaurants.
Grubwithus began in Chicago where the founders, Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano, had relocated from California in order to open a cream puff shop. Finding it difficult to strike up lasting friendships at their new neighborhood bars, the two knocked around the idea of a creating a "comfortable, non-awkward way to meet new awesome people, while dining at some of the cities best restaurants." After all, a table of shared food can bond the most motley of crews.
We’ve been stuck on our iPhones and computers for so long now that people are forgetting what it’s like to have real interactions with one another.
After the 2010 Chicago launch, Grubwithus expanded its six to 10 person dinner parties to the New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and L.A. markets. Across the nation, the company hosts more than 125 meals per month, with 68 percent of them selling out.
Though the founders often fall back on tech terms to describe their business' mission—social utility, user experience, etc.—Grubwithus is by no means another online "deals" site. In fact, Lu and Sugano prefer to keep their prices comparable to the restaurant’s normal price—a much more sustainable model.
"If a 'Grubber' can afford to attend the meal once, they can definitely afford to return to the restaurant again," explains Sen Sugano, Director of Business Development. "Groupon and LivingSocial users are only looking for a deal and rarely return back."
Restaurants are given total control to host meals on the days and times that work best for them, and the chefs are free to serve the dishes they believe pair best. And all the while, their businesses benefit from exposure on Grubwithus' site and social media platforms.
The model is one that seems to work across all cities for diners, too. “We haven’t had to change the format much,” says Sen, “but every city has different themes or special interests. For instance, New Yorkers love fashion, finance and tech themed meals. In Austin, tech and music are popular.”
All you have to do to participate is find a meal that interests you on the Grubwithus site, make your reservation before the cut-off and show up on time, ready to meet a variety of new people equally as adventurous as yourself. Like any social gathering, sure, there may be some duds, but the odds of coming out of this dinner party with piece of new knowledge or an interesting aquaintence are much higher.
“We’ve been stuck on our iPhones and computers for so long now that people are forgetting what it’s like to have real interactions with one another,” Sen says. “Grubwithus is leading the way in the movement to take online back offline… or what people are calling ‘In Real Life.’”
Check grubwithus.com for updates on the next Austin event.