I was there in part for the food (it’s hard to get a reservation at the Goat) and in part for the experience. Last semester, my digital marketing students took on GrubWith.Us as a client, and I wanted to see things firsthand, as a customer would.
Social media can seem anything but social. Walk into any coffee shop, and you’ll find people clacking away on their laptops. Most are on Facebook or other social networking sites, yet no one talks to their neighbors. The “social” opportunity is there, but the action is not.
There’s a lot of speculation going on about the future of social media (the current darling is “gamification”) but one hunch is that social can lead us back to “IRL social.” (IRL is an acronym for “in real life.”) So far there’s but one breakout IRL social leader, meetup.com. Through Meetup, people register and coordinate to meet in real life around a common interest, such as kayak fishing, scrapbooking or vegan cuisine. According to Alexa.com, Meetup is the 127th most popular website in the U.S.
So that brings us to GrubWith.Us, which is currently active in seven U.S. cities. Browse for active meals at specific restaurants on specified dates, and sign up for the one that interests you. The price for the meal slowly rises as more people sign up. Your social graph is pulled through Facebook, so you can see whom you’ll be dining with. You pay in advance for a prix fixe meal, tip included. At the meal, all you pay for is any additional drinks.
At my grub, the table seated 10 people and was full. Because the restaurant was bustling, I could really only talk with about half of the grubbers. They were friendly, interesting, and conversation flowed easily. Most of the grubbers were in their late 20s or early 30s.
For us, chef Stephanie Izard (winner of Top Chef season four) prepared eight dishes as part of a chef’s tasting. There were three servings of each dish for the table, so by the end of the evening servers brought us 24 dishes. It was a generous amount of food, and really showed off the range of the restaurant. I particularly liked the ham frites, the chickpea fritters, and the sugo (braised pork, goat and lamb, served in pappardelle with rosemary and ground cherries).
After the meal, diners can reconnect on the GrubWith.Us website to talk about the meal or exchange contacts. As you Grub your way through your city, you add badges and friends to your profile. Many of my dining companions had participated in several meals, even though the site has only been up for about five months.
The possibilities of this concept are great: think of GrubWith.Us as a connector for the convention-goer in a strange city, who wants to have dinner with like-minded souls. Or a grub before a concert, attended by fans of the artist. Ultimately, the number of organizing ideas behind potential grubs is limitless.
Unlike Groupon, GrubWith.Us is not a deal site. People attend the Grubs for social reasons rather than to get a discount. So restaurant owners are likely to prefer this service to daily deal sites, which commonly take 50 percent or more of the revenue from the deal.
GrubWith.Us just received a $1.6 million round of funding, with digital rock stars participating (Google’s Matt Cutts, Ashton Kutcher and Andreessen Horowitz, among others). They are currently expanding into new cities.