Social dining startup Grubwithus orders up $5M in new funding

Social dining network Grubwithus has raised $5 million in Series A financing, which the startup will use to expand its basic business premise: getting likeminded strangers together in a physical restaurant to share a meal.
Imagine Meetup cross-pollinated with Groupon(s grpn) and Open Table and you get the idea. Grubwithus forms local social networks – right now focused on New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco – allowing people to gravitate to groups with similar interests, whether it’s architecture, travel or the love of raw fish. Rather than keep those social interactions digital, though, Grubwithus provides the tools to book group meals at local restaurants.

Grubwithus negotiates deals with each restaurant for prix fixe menus, determines tips, handles booking and even divvies up the bill through its online payment system. All you have to do is show up and, well, be social, which in this case also includes paying your own drink tab. For restaurants it’s a means of generating guaranteed business and marketing themselves without resorting to steep the steep discounting of Groupon and other social couponing services (though Grubwithus does seem to negotiate some pretty impressive deals).
So far, the service seems more focused on the social aspect rather than tailoring the specific dining experience. For instance, when setting up a meal, Grubwithus selects the restaurant based on your price, dietary and location preferences, though you are allowed to make requests. If the idea is to build your social dining experience around a specific restaurant or menu, you may be out of luck. But that also appears to be why Grubwithus needs the funding. It plans to use the money to expand its restaurant portfolio as well as boost its marketing efforts and launch in more cities, both in the U.S. and internationally.
Grubwithus is one of the many “in real life” companies that are popping up in the food and dining space. Targeting diners makes perfect sense. What more perfect way to make the awkward transition from the digital ether to the real world than over a meal and drinks?
The business, however, hasn’t been kind to all who have tried it though. Startups like Spoondate and Housefed have shut down their services, but that hasn’t stopped other companies from taking a crack at other social dining models. Danielle Gould at Food+Tech Connect has written up interviews with two of the more fascinating startups connecting people online to the meals they want to eat: Zokos, a digital party planner and event manager, and Gusta, which targets the trendy “supper club” space. Gould also interviewed Grubwithus founders Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano last year when the company was just getting off the ground – definitely worth checking out.
Grubwithus started in 2010 in Venice, Ca., and raised a $1.6 million seed round through Y Combinator and a group of venture capital firms and angel investors including Ashton Kutcher, Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, Aviv Nevo, and others. The $5 million Series A round was led by Los Angeles VC firm GRP partners with participation from Lebanese entrepreneur, Michel Daher.
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