Here’s a New Year’s resolution you don’t hear too often: Eat more. Yet that’s exactly what we’re suggesting you do in 2013. Food can lead you to new experiences and acquaintances — if you’re willing to think outside the frozen-pizza-for-one box. “Life is so much more fun when you know more people and have interesting things to do,” says Eddy Lu, CEO of Grubwithus.com, an online platform that connects like-minded diners over family-style feasts. “And sharing a meal out is one of the most effective ways to do that.” We serve up three of our favorite Web-based services and one volunteer opportunity that all revolve around breaking bread — and breaking down the barriers between us.
Forging new friendships as an adult can be an uphill battle. Grubwithus.com aims to ease the process by organizing family-style dinners that revolve around member-suggested topics at member-suggested restaurants. Past discussion topics have included the best farmers markets in D.C. and the best lame joke. Diners pay in advance ($30 on average) for a meal that includes a starter, entree, side dish, dessert and tip. The format means there’s no awkward bill-splitting, and you’ll be surrounded by potential new friends. “We’ve found food is the least superficial way to connect with people,” says GrubWithUs CEO Eddy Lu. “Imagine if I went up to you at a bar and said, ‘Hey, do you want to be my friend?’ You’d probably walk away from me. But you have to engage and socialize when you’re sitting around a dinner table.”
Common Threads (Commonthreads.org)
Headquartered in Chicago with outposts in D.C., Los Angeles and Miami, Common Threads pairs underserved youths with local chefs. The pros give the kids hands-on lessons in how to cook and build healthy eating habits. In D.C., the after-school program meets weekly at elementary schools in Anacostia and Brookland, as well as at CulinAerie (1131 14th St. NW), a recreational cooking school. At CulinAerie, up to 20 children between the ages of 8 and 12 participate in Common Threads’ 10-week Cooking Skills and World Cuisine course. In each session, students explore a new country’s culture and prepare up to five healthy, inexpensive meals based on its cuisine. “Food is a common ground,” says Susan Reilly, Common Threads’ D.C. program manager. “It’s a reminder about how much more we have in common than we don’t.” Volunteers are needed for the spring session, Reilly adds; email Reilly@commonthreads.org to learn how you can participate.
Discover Something New
Think of Sidetour.com as the coolest course catalog ever. The site was born in 2011 after co-founder Vipin Goyal and his wife quit their jobs to travel the world, often finding themselves in spontaneous adventures led by knowledgeable locals. “I realized I’d be willing to pay to have people who are uniquely qualified in their domain to craft experiences and share them,” Goyal says. Currently available only in D.C., New York and Chicago, the site offers niche tours — many involving food — for groups up to 12 hosted by vetted D.C. residents. We tried two: a culinary tour of Bloomingdale led by a Washington food blogger that began with a whiskey tasting at Boundary Stone and ended at the home of a local foodie ($55); and a classic cocktail-making class, where we learned the best gin for a martini (Bols Genever) from an award-winning D.C. bartender ($75).
Find a Date
Eater Dating (Eater.how aboutwe.com)
Online dating can be tricky. But subscription service Howaboutwe.com ($34.99 a month) takes some of the sting out of cyber scoping by offering friendly prompts and allowing you to pitch date ideas. A recent collaboration with Eater.com has culled all food-centric proposals into one easy-to-navigate place. “You can learn a lot about a person based on what restaurant or meal they suggest,” says Brian Schechter, HowAboutWe’s co-founder. “Someone who wants to sample food trucks is very different from someone who wants to go to a wine bar.” Our suggestion to discuss toppings strategies at Amsterdam Falafel netted more than 100 interested parties in a month — and even led to an in-person date.