Best Of Chicago

Making Friends Over Meals: Stories from Grubwithus

July 27, 2011 6:00 AM

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

restaurant Making Friends Over Meals: Stories from Grubwithus

(credit: CBS)

In March, a man hoping to start up a group-dining site in Israel contacted me about Grubwithus. Founded in Chicago in 2010 and now in eight cities, Grubwithus organizes groups of strangers to eat family-style at restaurants around the city. At that point, I’d signed up for and been to one GWU dinner.

One thing that the Israeli man didn’t quite understand: “The grubwith.us site is NOT matching site for singles, but a place people come ‘to meet new people’ (man or women). Is it correct?”

He mentioned that the American Grubwithus model, of networking and potentially making new friends, wouldn’t work in Israel.

“Ideally, we want people to make new friends plain and simple,” says co-founder Daishin Sugano. “Grubwithus is about meeting new people, but more importantly creating an environment for individuals to feel comfortable and make the most out of their time together.”

With putting strangers together comes the possibility for some interesting—for better or for worse—stories, but many have been positive. “People have gotten job offers, met a significant other, reunited with a kindergarten friend (me), met a partner for a business venture, met their BFF, etc.,” Sugano says.

Below, four regular Grubbers share some stories about their Grubwithus experiences.

grubwithus Making Friends Over Meals: Stories from Grubwithus

(credit: Grubwithus)

“I’ve found that Grubwithus is a great way to try new restaurants in your neighborhood and maybe meet a few interesting people as well. I love that it’s pre-ordered, family style, so that I can go to a new restaurant and try many dishes… I’ve had dinner with all kinds of people: playwrights, insurance agents, even some people who work for the website. You never know who you’ll be eating with, so some dinner conversations are great, and some are not so great (but in that case, you can just focus on the food). I’ve had an experience where someone I found a little creepy did send me a message after the dinner that made me uncomfortable, but I e-mailed Grubwithus, and they cleared up the matter. That’s the main downside: you are out there, eating with strangers, but most of them end up being pretty okay.”

—Heather

“I decided to jump on board [Grubwithus] with a dinner at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, where I had been a few times prior. I figured that even if the people were terrible, the food would not be. Once we all got seated we introduced ourselves and ice was broken, it turned out that everybody was rather adventurous. I suppose it only makes sense, given everybody else is going out with perfect strangers too.”

“My second meal, at Tango Sur, was March 15, 2011. This time, I took a similar approach, going with a restaurant that I knew I liked, unsure of the quality of people I would meet, and I’m glad I did. The crowd was a bit more eclectic, truer to the Southport corridor neighborhood, and a few people took a little longer to warm up than the crowd did at my previous meal. However, midway through dinner we were laughing so hard that I believe I shed a few tears. We quipped about things like one of the diners coming to the meal solely to beef up (pun intended) his medical practice by providing us all Lipitor prescriptions afterward, and me running the upcoming Shamrock Shuffle in a tiger costume… I guess you just had to be there… That’s really the point of Grubwithus. You just have to be there, because you never know who you’re going to meet, how hard you’re going to laugh, or how awkward it’s going to be in the beginning—or end.”

The Chicago Snob

“Just to be completely transparent, I actually used to do some social-media community management for Grubwithus. But it was only because I fell totally in love with the concept after my first meal back in December and begged them for a job (haha)… the experience did help me land my dream job, and I’m still one of their biggest fans. Let me explain. During a meal at that time, I met a girl whose job fascinated me [see Tessa, below]. She works for a social-media start-up in Chicago, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a job in that field. So I kept in touch with her, and eventually a position opened up with her company. I’ve been employed with them for [more than a month], and I love every minute. So although Grubwithus isn’t specifically a dating or networking site, you never know who you’re going to meet at one of the meals.

“I still go on a meal about once a month. At one of my recent meals, I met a yogi who I’ve also kept in touch with. I’m planning on joining a bikram yoga studio soon per her recommendation, and it sounds like it could be the start of a great friendship.”

—Carolyn

“So, once upon a time, about a year ago, I found Grubwithus. I work for a start-up in Chicago so I have an eye for brand new, shiny apps, especially from Chicago… I’d simply wanted to eat at different restaurants but could never convince my friends to join me. And what’s the point of buying a Groupon that you’ll just end up using by yourself? Grubwithus came along in a wonderfully timely manner. I’ve met a lovely little community by grubbing over and over with the usual suspects. Meeting brand new folks happens all the time too. Folks from different walks of life and various demographics.”

“One of my most exciting experiences was when I was able to purchase into a meal for Girl and the Goat. Only by buying into this family-style meal were you ever guaranteed to share an exciting time in one of the most sought-after dinner seats in the city! The evening involved geeking over watching [chef] Stephanie Izzard expedite and having blissful reactions to all the dishes—with all strangers.”

—Tessa

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