Author’s disclaimer: I am in no way associated to any of the businesses mentioned in this piece. This is not an advertorial and no animals were harmed in the making of this episode.
Guess what I just heard… Some people actually enjoy the company of others. Crazy, right?
For years I’ve been called anti-social, a curmudgeon, or simply a dick. Well guess what all you judgmental, emotionally co-dependant bastards? I’m not anti-social. There’s a clinical explanation for my demeanor. According to the Myers-Briggs personality test I’m an introvert. More specifically, I’m an INTJ (note: while that explains a lot, I may also be a dick).
As an introvert, I’ve never understood the draw to social events. Yes, I value professional networking. And I can excuse mating rituals (aka blind dates, speed dating, desperate divorcee’s at the Habitat Lounge, etc.). But aside from professional or sexual advancement why would anyone willingly spend time with strangers?
Apparently I’m in the minority. In 2000 I joined forced with the other team. I married a “People Person.” At first it was thrilling, almost voyeuristic. She talked to real life strangers. On planes, instead of hiding in a magazine we spoke to the people sitting next to us. At restaurants we chatted-up everyone from the host to wait staff to the table across the way with an interesting scarf. And guess what happened? These people spoke back. We learned things. We laughed. We made friends. Bizarre, right?!
Since that time I’ve been thrust into a constant stream of forced socialization. Apparently when you make a new acquaintance it’s customary to address them on your next encounter. My fortress of social-solitude has been obliterated. I can’t even go grocery shopping without the dreaded “stop and chat.” But I digress.
Social Media Makes Food Social
So perhaps you’re not as lucky as GastroBoy. Maybe you don’t have a personal social planner. Ans perhaps, unlike me, you don't prefer eating alone at the bar. Food is inherently social. How do you find folks to dine with? How do you justify cooking an entire roast when you live alone? Look no further. There’s an app for that.
Have you ever learned a strange new word and then heard it used three times in the next week? Recently I heard about a new “social media” app for creating meet-ups at local restaurants. Within days I read about a separate web service that helps folks find pub-crawl style restaurant tours; then anther servied came into my news stream, and another. Suddenly there’s an entire category of social media dining services.
As an introvert I see these services as riddled with conflict. As a social capitalist I’m intrigued. Each offers a unique consumer proposition. More curiously, each has a built in model for monetization and scale. Can they really make it? Will users flock or is it a ridiculous exploit – AKA – Are they Rad or Fad? Let’s review.
Bringing Strangers Together in Public (AKA Meet ups)
BlendAbout.com (find New Places to Eat and Cool People to Meet): Here’s the set-up…BlendAbouts social dining service matches you with like-minded folks for group meals at local restaurants. According to their pitch, there’s no awkward 1:1s – safety in numbers. So basically it’s a marketing service for group events. Theoretically you’ll receive a special chef’s menu or unique experience. I call bullshit. While the concept is genius, the reality is a social club for mouth-breathers. Most noteworthy restaurants already offer chef's experience events. And EVERY restaurat accommodates solo diners. Are there really that many folks who need a service to dine out?
VERDICT: GastrobBoy says FAD.
DishCrawl.com: Here's a curious take...DishCrawl distinguishes from BlendAbout by adding the Pub-Crawl format. For a flat fee strangers receive an evening guaranteed to include multiple stops. Frankly, unless it’s on a Tuesday I don’t see the draw for restaurants to participate. Let’s say the facilitators are able to secure worthwhile destinations. What’s the appeal to participants? How many meals can you have in one night? The success hinges on the facilitators ability to create worthwhile themes within close proximity. I see a lot of beer and cocktails in their future – ergo the Ann Arbor’s Artini event. It may also take off as a turn-key social event for busy friends who shudder athte idea of planning thier own night out.
VERDICT: Rad (just barely)
AUTHOR’s NOTE: In Michigan Motor City Brew Tours already has the beer angle wrapped up – FTW.
Bringing Strangers Together in Private [Homes]
Feastly.com (Authentic Food with Real People): Looking for something a little more authentic and intimate? Perhaps you love to cook Paella but live alone and can’t justify the large grocery bill. Feastly creates a venue for cooks and “feasters” to hook-up for home-cooked meals in a private residence. “Feasters” help pay for the groceries and enjoy a meal unavailable to the masses. The service is currently in private beta. Like AirBNB or VRBO, there’s an inherent level of risk. Having said that, I feel as though this is one of the coolest ways technology is being used to bring people together. I foresee niche home-chefs becoming sought after underground stars. It may also serve as a powerful incubator for promising restraunteurs.
VERDICT: Very, Very Rad.
Laggards Are People Too
Perhaps this whole social media ‘thang just aint your bag. There are still ways for the less tech-savvy foodies to commune with total strangers. Here’s a few “web 1.0” Ann Arbor foodie networks.
Bona Sera Super Club While most of their energy of late has been directed towards running Ypsilanti’s newest café, the power duo of Bad Fairy & Wonder Woman manage to fit in an occasional secret dinner club event from time to time. The venues are constantly changing and the menus are always epic. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter for the inside scoop.
Tammy’s Tastings / TT Super Club Theoretically this is similar to Bona Sera, though I have no personal experience. Lately it appears as though Tammy is spending more energy on hosting cocktail classes. Be forewarned, if you attend one of these classes you may be forced to don cheap Hawaiian Lei’s while making Tiki drinks at a “prohibition” bar.
Edible Lab Imagine all of the best parts about a cooking class combined with the social excitement of a secret Popup café. Welcome to the Edible Lab, the brainchild of local boy Aaron Van Dyke. Recent events have included poultry butchery and Paella making. Here’s hoping Aaron keeps it up for a long time to come.
Café Selma Of course the best way to commune with strangers over a nourishing meal is by visiting Selma Café. Get there early, pay generously and don’t park within two blocks! THIS JUST IN.... Cafe Selma will be on Hiatus until further notice. Read all aout it here ... [LINK]
WILD CARD: MyFab5
Since we’re talking about food and social media I thought I’d mention Ann Arbor’s newest tech start-up, MyFab5. Seperate from in-personal social events there's a host of web and mobile apps designed to make food social. These apps focus on ratings, sharing photos, reccomendations, etc. They are the Yelps, Urbanspoon, Foodspotting, yada, yada, yada.
Some enterprising local minds have come up with a new take on these apps to help “simplify the way people recommend their favorite places and find the best places.” In theory it’s a pretty powerful concept. I travel a lot, and I have a lot of Facebook friends in other area codes. The idea of harnessing their experience is encouraging. Wouldn't it simplify travel planning if you knew what Portland restaurants your Northwest foodie friends prefered? Still, success relies upon each of these folks actively engaging in a rating system.
There’s no saying what makes an app successful…satisfying an unmet consumer need, popular early adopters or just plain luck. Whatever it is, here’s best wishes to the folks at Fab5. Check’em out.
Have you used any of these services? Do they excite you? Disgust you? Click "Comment" and share.