Grub With Us: It’s like group dating for friendships
I was shaking, very slightly, as I pulled in to the tight parking space of 26 Beach restaurant, easing my foot down on the break so I wouldn’t hit the dumpster. Parking in West LA – sigh – and this spot was a lucky find in the lot crammed with SUVs and Mercedes. I was on my way to my second Grub With Us dinner, and felt uncharacteristically nervous. But, if you think of Grub With Us as a group blind date for potential friendships, a little nervousness is understandable.
Grub With Us is a brilliant concept, drummed up by a team of cool cats in Chicago. Anyone can set up a meal around almost any topic – this one was First Girls’ Night – but there’s also “Grub it up with Travel Enthusiasts”, “Beer and Arrested Development Talk”, and “Young Professionals” to name a few. The first dinner I went to was one hosted by a bride blogger I followed, which was really fun – a bunch of girls talking about weddings, eating great food. But I wasn’t sure what I’d be walking into with this one.
I smoothed my orange party dress (I wear dresses 99% of the time), locked my car, and walked in. Three girls were sitting at a long table in the back of the restaurant, talking about topical subjects, like strangers generally do, trying graciously to put everyone else at ease. They were talking about how far they’d come to be here that night. One came from Beverly Hills, another from Culver City, and one drove in from just a few miles away “in terrible traffic!” I sat down quietly and stared at the menu. I had just driven an hour and fifteen minutes from Orange County and was not about to say anything.
“So, where did you come from?”
“Um. Orange County. I …wasn’t going to say anything,” I replied, shyly, feeling like a doofus.
“Why would you drive all that way?!”
Yes, there are Grub with Us dinners in Orange County, but not many, and none that were just girls, and I haven’t been able to make a friend in Orange County in the four years I’ve lived there, and my LA friends rarely visit (now I know why, if just the West side is considered far), and I was hoping to meet some nice people, and now I feel like a total loser…
I didn’t say any of that. Instead, “There’s not a lot happening in Orange County.”
“Ohhhh” – they nodded, sagely.
Once the rest of the girls arrived we introduced ourselves by name and occupation. Writer (me), PhD in gerontology, marketer for a drink brand, former Reality TV writer/current sportswear marketer, plastic surgery office manager (she had no lines anywhere, I couldn’t help but check), Museum of Modern Art registrar, and a head hunter from Santa Monica who thought plastic bags were evil (she obviously doesn’t own a dog).
I am normally an extrovert, but in this situation, on this night, my introvert was taking over. I felt shy and not cool enough – it was high school in my head – which I realized, but couldn’t stop. I have an amazing job, but didn’t want to talk about it for fear of seeming to brag. So I just listened and made a couple small unobtrusive additions to the conversation (and dug my nails into my arm while Santa Monica girl talked about plastic bags – that’s a hot button topic for me and I wasn’t going to get into it). I asked the Marketing girl how she got into her line of work, and between college and her current job, she dropped a name I recognized.
“So I was working for an NBC travel editor…”
A huge grin spread over my face, and we started tossing common names back and forth. “Do you know _?” And we both felt that welcome connection of familiarity and common ground. We learned we had even, randomly, been in Portland over the same weekend and might have seen each other picking over used clothes at Buffalo Exchange. My inner tension finally broke, and I no longer felt like that weird kid who drove all the way from OC.
Fundamentally, Grub With Us is about taking chances, going out of your way to meet a group of people over a great dinner, all in the hope of making a connection. I walked out with a connection, and a business card.1 comment