Qarnival uses the online technology of social media to make dining social again
We are a busy society. Although social media is one medium we use to help bridge the gap between the frequency of face-to-face interactions, it can also cause us to neglect the need to strengthen and engage our relationships offline. Zarghun Dean, founder of Austin’s sleek monthly periodical Tribeza and the web design and development firm, Act 2 Studio, has taken a relationship-centric approach to combat the lack of real world social interactions. He’s created Qarnival, a weekly social dining experience limited to a small, intimate number of guests. Various Austin area restaurants including Fino, Zandunga Mexican Bistro and The Clay Pit are participating by offering three-course family style meals priced between $20 and $25.
To help encourage conversation special guests are invited, such as: The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas Executive Director T. Marshall Jones (Wednesday, July 13th Fino dinner), Austin – American Statesman food writer Addie Broyes (Wednesday August 3rd Fino dinner) and Noah Kagan, founder of AppSumo / Director of Marketing at Mint.com / Product Manager at Facebook (Wednesday, August 10th dinner at The Clay Pit). What truly sets Qarnival apart from other wine dinners, supper clubs and meet-ups centered around food is that it deftly utilizes the technology and psychology of online social media relationships to cultivate off line encounters and camaraderie. The idea was sparked when Dean found himself concerned by the lack of strong “real time” relationships being cultivated because so much time was spent in online communities. His vision for Qarnival is to help strengthen existing online and offline social communities while helping to build new ones through the communal gathering of people in a social setting. Sharing a meal has a way of transcending social obstacles, introducing others to different cultures, and eliciting conversation and laughter. Therefore, bringing people together around food just seemed natural to Dean.
Dean has structured the Qarnival website as a micro social site where diners can create a profile with their name or handle (real name is preferred), picture, twitter handle, website address, and brief bio information. Soon the site will have a system for feedback and user messaging. The system also takes the guess work out of knowing who’s coming to dinner.Guests are encouraged to engage in conversations prior to the dinner and begin their offline relationship with online ease. Dean found that it was often difficult to coordinate dinner plans with large groups of friends. His creation simplifies the most challenging parts of dining with large groups: splitting a bill, deciding on a restaurant, and deciding on a time that works for everyone.
“It is a modern-day take on a supper club: a planned, yet serendipitous gathering, where new connections are made over dinner at some of Austin’s finest local restaurants” said recent Qarnival dinner guest and blogger Rebecca Otis (Localize Austin, Rebeccamendations) “It’s useful for newcomers to Austin or for those wanting to meet new people. Qarnival provides mystery and casual fun at the cost or less than the cost of a regular night out on the town. One is able to enjoy the full taste of the restaurant with several courses and walk away knowing more people than when they initially sat down to dine.”
This communal concept can also be advantageous for restaurants. Qarnival gets “booties in seats” on slower week day nights without the restaurant having to offer steep discounts. “The emphasis is on the quality and taste of the food and creating relationships, rather than on the price,” said Dean. “The restaurants keep a majority of the revenue from the food and drinks served at the dinners. Also, there’s not a hefty 20 page contract. My deals were built on a handshake.” Because the event is marketed through online social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and the Qarnival site, the restaurant gets amplified promotion it may not have regularly received.
“I think Qarnival is a fun way for a variety of people from around the Austin community to discover, or possibly rediscover, restaurants,” shared July 3rd Fino Qarnival dinner guest Natanya Anderson (Fete and Feast blog, and newly appointed Social Media Sr. Program Leader at Whole Foods).
Dean would like Qarnival to be utilized for nonprofit fundraising, birthday celebrations, cooking classes, cuppings at coffee shops, and themed dinners for different Austin communities such as fashionistas/os and runners. He also plans to expand to other cities. For this vision to come to fruition, much of the momentum needs to come from the guests who experience Qarnival. Dean realizes that Tribeza Magazine was successful not only because of its sleek design and interesting content, but also because of loyal brand evangelists that spread the word about the publication. He is counting on word-of-mouth marketing to work for Qarnival as pleased guests share their dining experience with their friends and get others join the site and attend dinners.
The key to having a spreadable message is to feed the talkers with a diet of exclusive information and great experiences. He’s been strategic thus far by inviting guests that are connecters and are active and engaging online and in the Austin community. Guests have included: Susan Leibrock (Sustainable Food Center), Rebecca Otis (Localize Austin, Rebeccamendations), Bijoy Goswami (Bootstrap Austin) , Michael Barnes (Austin-American Statesman Out & About social columnist) and Natanya Anderson (Fete and Feast blog.) “It’s also a great way to meet others who are passionate about food and drink in a more relaxed setting than is typically found at a big food event,” shared Anderson. “There are real opportunities to talk with and get to know people. I also really appreciate the price point on the dinners as it’s very accessible. I’m excited to see where this idea goes.”