The Strangers That Eat Together…

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.

27 Comments

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27 responses to “The Strangers That Eat Together…

  1. Joanna

    Love this idea! I’ve always been a fan of community tables. I had the best time traveling solo through Italy because it is acceptable to ask another solo diner if you might share a table with them. New friends and new food are a wonderful combination.

    Rachel, I read your blog each morning with a cup of coffee and it is terrific! Thanks for all your efforts …

  2. Thanks so much for the review –I actually just signed up for this yesterday but was not clear whether it would be a good thing for a singleton. (I mean, we’ve all gone to “meet new people” events where everyone came with another friend or two and everyone just huddled into their own cliques, yes?)

  3. nyorkie

    What a great idea! Family style is so big throughout the world that I don’t see why it isn’t in the U.S.

    What about speed-friending?🙂

  4. What a great idea! I wish there had been something like this when I was new to Chicago. And really, why didn’t anyone think of this before?

  5. Oh my gosh, I sort of want to trek into the city and try this, that sounds like so much fun! I still think Match.com for friends would be a great idea…

  6. I got invited to this thing too! Didn’t really look into it though, so I’m glad you did a review. Sounds like I should give it a try…

  7. I would also suggest underground supper clubs and other food-with-a-twist organizations as a great way to meet people, and you’ll feel totally fine if you go solo. I went to a pig roast at an abandoned convent in Pilsen by myself, and got some new friends and new clients out of it!

    Some in Chicago:
    Clandestino
    City Provisions
    Across the Table
    Ghetto Gourmet
    X-Marx Chicago
    Sunday Dinner Chicago

    And my Minglers require that you come solo, and are good for people looking to expand networks [social, professional, romantic] in a low-key, low-cost way.
    http://macncheeseproductions.com/Minglers.html

  8. Thank you for such a great post. This sounds like a wonderful idea! If this existed here my husband and I live, we would love to come. We are looking for new couple friends, and this would be a great way to meet some new faces. I am wondering if this idea could be directed at restaurants, here is our area. I imagine that this would be good for business, as a way to bring in new customers.
    Regarding other ideas, we’ve thought about starting a monthly film club, sort of like a book club. However we are not sure exactly how to organize this. If anyone has ideas about this, we’d love to hear about them. The general idea would be for each couple to see the same movie, and then get together for drinks and appetizers to discuss the movie.
    Thanks so much for your terrific blog! This is such a great subject! We all need friends, and social events. In our highly mobile society, this is sometimes a challenge! Your blog is just perfect for taking on this situation! Thank you a million times.

  9. Julia

    When I lived in Las Vegas almost 2 years ago I once went to a dinner for a Meet-up group that had combined with a group from another pay-website just for this dinner. When I walked in the door, the host enthused, “Oh, I’ve put you at a wonderful table!!”

    Yeah, not so much. The food was really good — so good that I went back several times after that just for the fish tacos. But my table of 4 was not awesome. Everyone but me was a hiker, and they all wanted to talk about hiking. All three were in the same hiking group and at least 20 years older than me. I don’t hike, but I guess that’s what people in Vegas who don’t want to join a gym do to keep in shape. I tried to keep conversation, ask people about their jobs, but they weren’t interested, they wanted to talk about hiking. We had nothing in common and I had no chance of moving tables because all of the other ones were full.

    I’d be nervous about communal dining depending on the circumstances. I think the lesson here is that communal dining would not work for Las Vegas locals. But I think in many cities it would work because the concept involves bringing one friend. That guarantees you’ll have *someone* to talk to. And sometimes having friend chemistry already going on makes things flow better, opens up conversation, makes everybody relaxed.

    So if a friend asked me to go, I probably would give it a try if I could afford the price of the meal and I didn’t have to be up too early the next day. And one suggestion: Try musical chairs after the appetizer. Shake it up.

    • I love your musical chairs suggestion… that would be great since there was a girl at the end of the table who seemed awesome but I had no way to chat with her.

      Your experience sounds really rough. If the table has a group “theme” ie hiking, you probably deserved a warning…

  10. I love this idea and would definitely go to a restaurant like that. It seems like it would be a good way to make friends and maybe meet a romantic prospect.

    There is a pub like that in my town called the Dirty Truth and it has long tables that seat about 8 and people share them. However, I have yet to go there alone. I have gone with another person and we have ended up in conversations with our table mates. Never ended up exchanging numbers though.

    I didn’t know that you were a Harry Potter fan. My son has me reading the books to him so I have gotten hooked. They have informed some of my posts. Check this one out and let me know what you think.
    http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com/394/how-to-deal-with-an-impending-breakup-summon-a-patronus/

  11. 🙂 Daishin emailed me the link to this! yes, JK Rowling saves the day again. It’s possible there needs to be a new blog regarding a certain quest to get inside Rowling’s head. I’m thinking some kind of brain-linkage deal, similar to the process in Avatar. Fun eating with you (:

  12. Thanks for the encouraging words Rachel! We hope to continue to build a product that helps create quality connections offline in a casual dining setting. Hopefully, we can stay in touch as we continue to grow. Enjoying your blog….

    :::Daishin

  13. I’m moving to Chicago next week and will definitely need to make new friends, this is perfect! I might even see you at one of these🙂

  14. Katherine

    This sounds like an amazing idea! Just moved to the city, and still job hunting, so I have been reading your blog to motivate myself to try new things and to put myself out on the friend market. Thanks so much!

  15. This is an awesome idea. Hope it catches on in other cities.

  16. As a newcomer to Portland, OR, I’d LOVE it if this were here. My only suggestion might be to organize the groups (loosely) based on age. As a couple in our mid-50’s, My husband and I might be chagrined to show up for a dinner to find it exclusively composed of 20-somethings.

  17. Just finally clicked on the link from GrubWithUs! It was so great meeting/eating with you and I promise not to talk about other diseases if I see you again.😉 And hey! Where was I for the Harry Potter conversation? I completely missed that one!

    Also – I love this blog; my husband and I have talked about this exact topic a number of times since moving to Chicago. You can bet I’ll be watching the blog for new ideas and will be sure to share any I run across as well!

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  20. Esme

    I would sign up for this. This sounds like a fun and different way to spend an evening. I was recently in Brugge and stayed at a B and B. Breakfast time was a lot of fun. There were three other couples at the table from around the world. Everyone spoke English so we could all converse amongst ourselves. You are right sharing a meal is a great way to converse with strangers.

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