dinner party

There are few more powerful ways to forge new relationships than by “breaking bread,” aka sharing a meal. Supperking, a new social dining startup out of Los Angeles, is launching today to join the ranks of those hoping to gather people of common interests around a dinner table and see what kind of magic happens. It’s an idea that has been tried before in various incarnations, but which to which the young company adds a few unique twists.

Users of the company’s location-based iOS app can choose to either open up their homes to host a community dining event, or sign up to join a meal hosted by another user. For each meal, hosts choose a topic – such as technology, art, fine wine, etc. – and a menu, and then put a fixed number of tickets up for sale at a price of their choosing ($1 to $99). Event listings are searchable through event listings based on location, price, cuisine, date, and keyword.

Hosts can keep reservations open or choose to review and accept each guest “application.” Following each meal, guests are encouraged to review hosts and one another. The idea being that the best hosts and most interesting guests will rise in popularity and find themselves invited to the best future Supperking events.

Given its nascent stage, it’s no surprise that the app appears to be a minimum viable product. For example, the only payment option available at launch is PayPal. This, and other little rough spots, will need to improve going forward, but at this stage it’s all about attracting users and facilitating gatherings. Supperking has certainly put together a compelling enough offering to do this much.

The LA startup is not the first company in the social dining category, but it’s adding a few interesting tweaks on the existing model. Specifically, Supperking is focusing on home-cooked meals in members’ own homes. The company’s most widely known competitor, Y-Combinator alumni Grubwithus, is based around restaurant dining. For my tastes, this seems like the right choice, as being invited into someone’s home adds a feeling of intimacy and connectedness that is not available in a more public setting.

Also, while Grubwithus adds gamification through increasing ticket prices as events progressively sell out, as mentioned above, Supperking is using social capital and the threat of negative reviews to encourage users to put their best foot forward and thus ensure the best events possible.

Like its competitors, Supperking will earn its revenue through collecting an undisclosed portion of each ticket purchased. Grubwithus, for its part, keeps 20 percent.

With several choices to facilitate social dining experiences among strangers, the success or failure of Supperking will be largely tied to the caliber of people it can attract to its network early on. Users who make an interesting connection will be far more inclined to return to future events and speak highly of the service to friends.

I was able to attend a Supperking pre-launch event in San Francisco a few weeks ago that included a wide selection of tech industry notables. The event, which was heavy on the idea of collaborative consumption, was hosted in a private home overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge rented on AirBnB. Guests enjoyed shared Uber rides, were greeted upon arrival by a sommelier pouring the first of the evening’s half dozen different flavors of vino, and enjoyed a delicious multi-course meal prepared by a private chef. Suffice it to say, the evening was quite the production and, while it set a high bar for the everyday users to live up to, the company showed what’s possible through the service with a little imagination and the right crowd.

Whether users choose to roll out the proverbial red carpet for their own events, or elect instead to keep things casual and informal will depend on the crowd they’re looking to attract and the type of evening they’re hoping to enjoy. Either way, the idea is that shared meals will be the catalyst for a variety of memorable experiences.