Dining With Strangers: A Startup Takes Social Networking out to Dinner

Dinner, anyone? Web platform Grubwithus makes it easy to connect with interesting people (and potential friends) over a meal.

There's nothing like sharing a great meal to help a crowd loosen up and turn strangers into friends. But if you're new to town (wherever that may be), it may be hard to find the right crowd to get dinner with, or the right friend to organize a meal and invite you. Enter Grubwithus, a new web platform for people eager to socialize around a delicious meal with a self-selecting group of people.

The Los Angeles-based website was founded by Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano, who—tired of tech careers in the corporate world—decided to open franchises of a cream puff company in Los Angeles and then Chicago. Passionate about food, they were challenged by their hectic schedules to meet people in their adopted hometown in a comfortable, natural way. Lu and Sugano reached out to several Chicago restaurants to host Grubwithus' first public dinners for locals seeking new friends. The project launched as a company in the summer of 2010. Now it operates nationally and recently closed its Series A round of funding for $5 million.

Here's how it works: users (referred to as grubbers) can visit their city's Grubwithus page to check out the meals on offer. In Los Angeles, a city with an active user base, the possibilities range from meeting young people new to L.A., to networking with entrepreneurs, to talking shop with restaurant industry leaders, to mingling with singles. If none of those options sounds appealing, users can opt for the "Create Your Own" feature to set up their own meal in a neighborhood of their choice.

Diners pay a fixed price in advance to book a spot at a multi-course meal. Once they've paid, attendees just show up at the the restaurant at the arranged time and enjoy themselves. "There is no format. No agenda, no assigned seating," explains Amy Partridge, director of communications for Grubwithus. "Sit down, find where you’re comfortable. The meal is served family style. It’s a social lubricant. People at the very least can find a conversation by asking someone to pass a dish."

According to Partridge, Grubwithus maintains relationships with a roster of restaurants in each city where it operates. The restaurant agrees to prepare a family style meal for the party of grubbers and hold a table based on how many register for the meal. "It’s essentially guaranteed revenue for [the restaurants]," Partridge says. "It’s group business and its generally on nights that the restaurants are a bit slower. It’s been a very positive marketing tool." Grubwithus keeps the lights on by charging a service fee per reservation.

Partridge says the company can already pat itself on the back for connecting several diners with job offers through Grubwithus meals. Perhaps the one problem with the service is that if it's successful, grubbers will no longer need it and coordinate meals on their own with new friends. According to Partridge, that happened with at least one super-user in Chicago. After coming to Grubwithus meals every two weeks, "all of a sudden he stopped coming to our meals. We reached out to him and said, 'We miss you.'"

Turns out he had met his girlfriend at a meal. His response: "'We’ve been doing just parties of two.'"

Image courtesy of Grubwithus

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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