Smartphone app helps bring strangers together over meals

TORONTO (REUTERS) - Looking for new friends or dinner partners? A new smartphone app is designed to help people connect to others to set up groups for dinners.

The app, GrubTonight, links hungry and adventurous smartphone users for dinners, fun evenings and friendship.

"We wanted to build a real-time spontaneous app where any night of the week you could go out and eat, because you need to eat anyway, and also have a social outing," said Eddy Lu, CEO and co-founder of Grubwithus Inc, an online community for group meals based in Los Angeles, California.

Users can browse group dinners through the app, which works with restaurants to fill open seats. Each night, there are three prix-fixe group dinners available. Bookings for the meals, which average about US$20 (S$26), are made through the app. The meal includes a shared appetiser, entree and a drink.

GrubTonight is available in Los Angeles but the company's other app, Grubwithus, is worldwide and enables users to attend group dinners that are planned several days in advance and revolve around themes.

Users are also able to organise their own public or private group dinners using the app.

"When you want to create an event you just select one of our partner restaurants and the menu is already taken care of," said Lu.

"People need efficient ways just to meet people. It's a good social way to come together and you need to eat three times a day," he said, adding that most users are between 20 and 35 years old.

The company has organised meals in more than 50 cities worldwide but the app has been most popular in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

The motivation for Grubwithus, according to Lu, came from the difficulty he faced in meeting new friends and people to do things with in Chicago.

"When you go to dinner parties and meet friends of friends that's when you really connect with people because you're sitting beside them for an hour," he said. "We thought that dinner was just such a good way to connect with people and build meaningful friendships." Although it is not a dating app, Lu said that it has played a part in bringing some couples together.

GrubTonight is available for iPhones, but web and Android apps are being developed and the company plans to expand GrubTonight to other US cities.

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