A New Take On Supper Clubs

You're new to a city and don't know anyone, but forget heading to the bar to bond with sports fans while catching the game — sports teams aren't your style. You'd rather get lost in conversation over a bowl of ramen or while making your own tacos at a Mexican-themed dinner party. But when you don't know many people, how can you find a get-together?

So long supper clubs — in search of good food and company, people are now turning to the web. Take last year's launch of Grubwithus.com, launched by two friends who wanted to expand their network after moving as recent grads to a new city (it's now available in 12 cities), for example. The site allows one to "make new friends over good food." It's like a social dining network cum dining club — for about $25 to $40, you can buy a ticket to a dinner hosted by a restaurant, and perhaps walk away at the end of the night with a couple of new friends.

Soupnextdoor.com builds upon the initial Grubwithus.com concept, using the web to bring together people over food, and takes it to new levels. It focuses on what a dinner party should be — sharing a home-cooked meal while sitting with friends. Yet, instead of the same old get-together of friends, it brings together complete strangers, looking to create a community and enticed by what the night has to offer. It's our new favorite reason to expand our social network.

Founders Dave Gunnoe and Matt Canterbury were inspired by traditional supper clubs, but turned off by their exclusivity and limited nature. "We hope SoupNextDoor will become one of the best ways to meet people in large, impersonal cities," says Gunnoe.

So what's in a name? Everything, for SoupNextDoor.com. It's a name Gunnoe's wife masterminded, but that everything instantly gravitated to. "The 'NextDoor' part is supposed to convey a sense of community since you're going to be sitting down with your neighbors for a delicious meal, while 'Soup' means 'dinner,' as in, 'Soup's on!'"

These new-fashioned dinner parties are neither exclusive nor overpriced. It's about freedom of choice — for the chef to plan the menu, for diners to pick and choose whichever meals pique their interest, and work with their schedule. "We wanted events that are open to anyone and happen on a regular basis," says Gunnoe. The gatherings also help rebuild the community that those living in big cities, working long hours, often long for. Nothing existed like it, so they made it. And, according to Gunnoe, "So far, people are really enjoying it."

Unlike the meals you might have at some supper clubs, and certainly the ones served at dinner parties hosted by amateurs like you or me, those who attend a SoupNextDoor event are treated to a restaurant-worthy meal. "SoupNextDoor is a network of professional chefs who host dinner parties for anyone to attend," explains Gunnoe. "Some center on a theme. Others are all about the food," he says. While you probably won't know most of the other guests, there is no shortage of personal interaction and good conversation at SoupNextDoor events. "When you come to a SoupNextDoor event, you will probably talk to everyone there and make lasting friendships," adds Gunnoe. "We even use social networks to allow users to reconnect after events if they choose."

Attending a SoupNextDoor dinner? Think of it as no different from a meal at a friend's home — plan for a social night. Your host may be the chef, or not — either way, they are warm, welcoming, and fully engaged in the party, Gunnoe adds. "They are great at getting the conversation started." Dining with strangers may make some people nervous at first, but people warm up as the event gets underway. And don't feel like you have to go alone — many people buy an extra seat for a friend to ease their anxiety, too.

While SoupNextDoor has just launched in New York City, Gunnoe and Canterbury have already set their sights westward. But building the right community in New York, using greatly valued perspective and feedback from their chefs and diners, comes first. "Once we're positive that we've got it right, we will allow select cities to use the service," explains Gunnoe. Perhaps formally expanding into Chicago is next, then San Francisco... "But we also accept requests and allow chefs in other cities to try it out on a limited basis," adds Gunnoe. "We're in San Juan, Puerto Rico, because a chef there wanted to give it a shot." Yet where they'll be in a year or two? Who knows. One thing is for sure, though, "Whatever it turns into will be what people want and need so we're happy to have the opportunity to be a part of it."