Chefs can set the price of the meals and other house rules and choose how many people they want to serve under the model. On average, a feast costs around $30 per person. Karesh and Harris take up to 25 percent of the total proceeds from the dinner.
People can sign up to receive e-mail alerts on upcoming feasts. “We are leveraging technology to create vibrant communities,” Karesh said.
Kauffman Foundation vice president Lesa Mitchell said trusted online platforms, be they social network groups or referral sites such as Yelp, have become a driving force in the food industry. “Reputations can develop or be destroyed overnight because of technology,” she said. “There is greater immediacy in the response to these concepts.”
In the same vein as Feastly, The Coterie is an online marketplace that connects foodies with exclusive dining opportunities. For $42 a month, members gain access to cocktail parties and salon-style dinners. They also get access to a reservation system through which they can arrange for five-course tastings at one of five partner restaurants, including Fiola and Bibiana, for $135 a person.
“Our value proposition is connecting curious dinners with innovative chefs,” said Jill Richmond, who co-founded The Coterie with Nick and David Wiseman. “What underpins what we do, especially with the fireside dinners, is providing connections that are more meaningful than just having a great experience at a restaurant.”
Richmond, a consultant at the World Bank, started the culinary salon under the name No. 68 Project in London in March 2010. When her job led her back to the states a year later, she revived the project as a nine-week pop-up restaurant in the District.
The underground scene
Area foodies are dispelling the notion that Washington is too conservative to embrace experimental concepts. Underground dinner parties, where guests are not allowed to disclose the location or the host’s identity, have been gaining popularity in the past two years.
Dinner requests are growing at the Web site for underground restaurant Chez La Commis. Tom, the chef who requested anonymity to maintain privacy, started sending out e-mails to friends of friends in January to try out his creations.
A public relations executive by day, budding chef by night, Tom serves six-courses, with three wine pairings, for $40 out of his home in Clarendon. Word got out in the blogosphere about his dishes, such as crab salad with cucumber granite, and foodies started e-mailing requests to attend his clandestine supper club.
“Because there is no barrier aside from the cost of ingredients, you can get as creative as you want,” Tom said. “When you free people from the formal setting of a restaurant, the atmosphere becomes more lively. That matches the type of food I put out.”