Gone are the family dinners of the 1940s, replaced with oven-heated TV trays eaten in the bluish glare of Three’s Company and Happy Days. Gone are microwaveable TV dinners, replaced with Seamless delivery and so many nights spent staring at Netflix, shoveling food into a slack mouth. But thankfully, in a bittersweet way, technology has taken us so far away from intimate social dinners that we’ve come full circle. Foodies and socialites are now using social dining platforms to connect with cooks — some professional, others simply passionate — to have meals with total strangers, either at a restaurant, or, in more adventurous cases, the cook’s home. The dinner table has reemerged as the premiere social network — here are five of the best ways to reconnect.
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Best for Locals: Feastly is the largest American-made social dining platform, with the large majority of meals occurring in New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. The site allows cooks of all skill levels to host dinners at their homes or another site. Prices can range from free for potluck gatherings to over $100 a head for high-end feasts. Founder Noah Karesh describes his site as an egalitarian platform for “building self-regulating communities” of foodies, which extends beyond basic pop-up restaurants and home-cooked meals to include more naturalistic approaches, like guided food foraging trips and lessons on healthy eating. Feastly goes so far as to actually try a cook’s food before giving them a “verified” classification in order to protect its customers.
Best for Travelers: EatWith is the largest social dining platform in the world, with hosts and diners in over 30 countries. Originally developed for travelers seeking to eat authentic cuisine at a local’s home, the fast-growing platform has come stateside and allowed neighbors to meet each other over home cooked meals. A more structured and curated service than Feastly, EatWith representatives also try a cook’s meal and view their menu before verifying them. As Naama Shefi, the Marketing Director of EatWith in New York, says, “Our standards are very, very high. We offer education and guidance to our hosts to help them become even more awesome.”
Best for Novice Chefs: A smaller alternative to Feastly, Bookalokal’s two primary markets are Belgium and America; it currently lists about a hundred dinners in each country. Peter Droste from Calva, an underground supper club that lists on the site, says that it’s a “great platform that was founded in Europe by two of the most wonderful people that have ever come in for dinner.” Despite its size, safety is still a priority, with users filling out profiles, rating meals they’ve had and paying through secure channels.
Best for the Risk Adverse: Unlike the other social dining platforms, BlendAbout takes place exclusively at local restaurants and limits group sizes to six. This makes the platform ideal for those wanting to focus on the “social” aspect of social dinning rather than discovering foods that wouldn’t be available in a traditional restaurant. It also means that aspiring chefs trying to show off their skills need to look elsewhere.
Best For Small Talk Extraordinaires: Taking place in 19 cities across the U.S., Dinner Lab is a less organic, more structured dining platform. Diners apply and pay a fee to gain membership, after which they can attend dinners — more like catered events, really — put on by Dinner Lab directly, with chefs chosen by the organization. The dining space is guaranteed to change from meal to meal, whether it’s an outdoor crawfish broil in Brooklyn or a fancy meal out of place at a mall’s food court. The groups are the largest you’ll find on this list, giving you the best diversity of guests to meet and greet.
Best for a Date: No food is technically involved with Grouper — partakers head to a bar and have already pre-paid for two drinks — but its intimate social aspect earned it a spot on this list. A group of three friends is matched with another group of three based on personality characteristics, drink preferences and bank account statements. The night could end in friendship, hatred or wedding bells. Luckily, you have a three chances for each.