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Grubwithus, gathering strangers around restaurant tables, launches in Boston next week

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 25, 2011 03:25 PM

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Grubwithus, a Chicago start-up that brings groups of people together for shared meals, is launching in Boston June 1st. The site's recipe combines four things I love: checking out new restaurants, family-style dining, saving money, and dinner conversations with new people — the more eclectic, the better.

Here's how the service works: you buy your meal in advance, getting a 20 or 30 percent discount on a restaurant's normal rate. (Taxes and gratuity are also paid in advance.) Most dinner groups consist of eight people, and you can invite friends along or go solo. The meals are served family-style, which gives you a chance to try several appetizers, entrees, and sides. People who reserve a spot at the table first pay a little less than those who commit later; the price of the meal increases 50 cents with each person who signs on. On the site, you can see photos and profiles of the other people who'll be joining you, including info about where they work and their hobbies.

Among the Boston restaurants that have signed on to participate so far are Maurizio's in the North End; Masa Southwest Bar & Grill in the South End; and Hana Sushi in Cambridge.

"Generally, the meals are all about being social," says founder Eddy Lu. "But there's always a group of people who want to eat with a purpose, so some meals have tags that tell you they're for people interested in start-ups or the real estate industry, for example." Among those that Grubwithus appeals to, Lu says, are "consultants who travel a lot, and of course, people who are single. We think there are girls who would never use a dating site, but would definitely go out to dinner when they thought they'd have a chance to meet a few interesting people, as opposed to a single blind date." The site got its start, Lu says, "when my co-founder and I moved to Chicago from LA for work, and we didn't know anyone."

Grubwithus launched last summer in Chicago, and also operates in New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Grubwithus tends to organize dinners on Sunday through Thursday nights, when restaurants aren't as busy as they are on weekends. And unlike "daily deal" discount services like Groupon or Living Social, Lu says Grubwithus doesn't ask restaurants to cut prices in half, and then hand half of the remaining revenue over to the discount service. Lu says Grubwithus generally takes a commission of 20 percent from the price users pay for a meal.

Grubwithus raised $1.6 million from a group of venture capital firms and angel investors earlier this month. (The angels included actor Ashton Kutcher. Perhaps he and Demi will participate in some Grubwithus meals in LA?)

I'll give Grubwithus a whirl once it's live, and let you know how it goes...

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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