Last night I tried out the latest development in modern friending: social dining. Grub With Us is kind of like Open Table, but instead of reserving a table, you reserve only a seat or two at a party of 12. “Being recent transplants to Chicago, we wanted to meet new people, but didn’t want to hang out at the bars and clubs every night,” the founders say on their website. “We thought it’d be much more fun to bond at the best restaurants in Chicago for a discounted price.”
It was the inaugural meal of the start-up business, but it seems to me there could be a big future here. I was able to go because a coworker of mine was invited via Twitter. Knowing my passion for (fixation with?) making new friends, she invited me along (each attendee can bring one guest). This was our first out-of-office get-together, so I got to meet people while simultaneously advancing our friendship to the next level. A twofer!
The evening went well. Sitting at the end of a rectangular table for 12 pretty much guarantees you’ll only talk to half the group, but ours was a good gang. I did some overdue catching up with my coworker, but also had a passionate talk with the nurse practitioner across from me about Harry Potter. Or, more specifically, the discrepancies between the HP movies and books, and how badly we’d like to inhabit JK Rowling’s brain space for one day. Another fellow diner, a woman in healthcare PR, taught me what Huntington’s disease is—and then had to explain how she knows I don’t have it. I could do without learning about new diseases for a bit.
The more I think about the concept, the more why-didn’t-I-think-of-that I get. For $18, I shared three appetizers, a sushi roll, three entrees and dessert. The family style serving lent itself to socializing. Food in general—and drink, obviously—opens up the chatty floodgates. It’s great for meeting new people, but also a stellar opportunity to test out a few dishes at quality local restaurants. If I were a big work traveler who wanted to eat well but not alone, I’d be all over it.
I realize I sound like a walking advertisement for this company, but the truth is, as a self-appointed semi-professional friender, I just think it’s a great idea. I didn’t even tell the founder about my project, despite being plenty tempted. Especially when he started telling his “I moved here and didn’t know that many people…” story.
For now, this company’s only in Chicago—and is barely up and running here—but the founder tells me he plans on expanding to other cities.
Tell me, would you sign up for a dinner like this? Do you have any ideas for friend-making businesses that you’d like to start… or to try? I promise I won’t steal your idea, but if you get it off the ground, I’ll always be your friending guinea pig. See people, I’m here for you.