At Sprout Insights, we comb the web to bring you the most up-to-date and actionable resources on how to use social media to grow your business.

To that end, we’re pleased to present the Sprout Insights series Spotlight on Startups. We’ll find the most innovative, useful startup companies out there, get the inside track on what they’re doing, and tell you how you can leverage their products and services for your own business.

This week we’re pleased to cast the spotlight on Grubwithus — a social dining network that facilitates real-world, offline connections in a number of major cities throughout the United States and Canada.

What Is Grubwithus?

Grubwithus is a community building hub around which friends and future friends get together to share group meals at participating restaurants. You might call it a people discovery engine for those who’d like to meet new people around an activity that most people enjoy — dining out at a restaurant.

When you sign up for your free membership on Grubwithus, you can peruse its website for lists of meals and groups in any of the cities Grubwithus currently serves. Members are free to join any existing meal or group, or they can create their own meals and groups based on restaurant type, menu, or location, as well as common interests or occupations.

Meals are hosted at official restaurant partners and typically have 6-10 people at each table. Each diner pays in advance through the Grubwithus secure payment system for a set menu that’s served “family style” — which means lots of sharing and sampling! Meals, averaging approximately $35 per person, include all taxes and gratuities. If diners want to order alcohol or items a la carte, they are brought separate checks at the end of the meal for these additional items.

Grubwithus has also recently introduced GrubTonight, an iPhone app that allows people to make same-day, social dinner reservations. Similar to Grubwithus, GrubTonight meals are held at local restaurants but have between 4-8 people at each table. Reservations are made directly from the app and prices (averaging around $25 per person) include dinner, taxes, tip, and your first drink.

What Needs Does it Address?

Amy Partridge, Director of Communications for Grubwithus says “we are delivering social dining experiences for everyone. From the spontaneous, last-minute types to the planners who keep their calendar updated to the minute.” She adds that Grubwithus strives to “bring people together over food.” Judging by the success and growth of Grubwithus, it would appear that the brand is on to a winning formula.

When asked if people are a little apprehensive about meeting strangers out in the real world, Ms. Partridge says “sure, it’s a little scary to think about going to dinner with a group of strangers, but so is sky diving and asking someone out for the first time — and those are both pretty great!” She says that in today’s world, people are connected with hundreds and thousands of people online but that very few of these people ever make a connection in person. “We’re definitely missing the human contact element in our online relationships,” says Partridge, “and yet that’s something that humans fundamentally crave.”

Grubwithus provides a safe, curated environment where people can leverage their online relationships into offline friendships. “The feedback we get, especially from first-time users of the service, is amazing,” says Partridge. “For open meals, approximately 70 percent of first time members don’t know each other.” That all changes once they’ve had an opportunity to meet each other over a great meal in a fun, non-threatening, public venue. “We receive feedback all the time that our platform is helping people establish real world, lasting friendships. A lot of the dinners end with groups of people carrying on the party to another venue and then signing up for the next meal on our site,” adds Partridge.

How You Can Leverage Grubwithus

According to Ms. Partridge, Grubwithus has helped form new business ventures, introduced countless couples, and created friendships across the United States and Canada. If you’ve found it difficult to meet people in your city or if you’d just like to meet some of your online friends in the real world, Grubwithus allows you to bridge this gap through the breaking of bread!

If you’re a restaurant, Grubwithus can introduce a large, potentially new customer base to your business with the very lucrative 25-38 year-old, urban-professional demographic. Grubwithus partners are not limited to restaurants, however. It works with a number of different brands, from a variety of industries, to help establish an offline community of users around those brands. “We’ve hosted recruiting dinners for companies, and we’ve hosted dinners for clients such as CBS, Oxfam, and USA Network, to name just a few,” says Partridge.

Know of any other startups that would make a good feature on Spotlight on Startups? Contact us, or let us know in the comments below.

[Image credits: Grubwithus]