December 25, 2013

The Social Dining Experiment

Pick up phone.
Make reservation.
Go to restaurant.
Eat dinner.
Go home.
Repeat.

There is a set routine to dining out.  And for the most part, the routine never changes – or we assume that it can’t change.

First launched in New Orleans, Dinner Lab was founded by Brian Bordainick and three of his friends as a social dining experiment.
Dinner Lab - Sept 26

The members-only club was designed to challenge the rules and routine of dining out and bring a unique dining experience.  Each diner is able to experience a bespoke dinner highlighting the creations of an undiscovered chef in an unconventional locale.  In late September, Dinner Lab expanded into New York, and I’ve had the privilege of photographing the dinners from the very first dinner in the city.

In New York, Dinner Lab has hosted dinners at locations such as South Street Seaport, an opera house in Williamsburg, a dance studio in Flatiron, and even an abandoned warehouse in Red Hook.
Dinner Lab - Sept 26 Dinner Lab Oct 10-53 Dinner Lab_Nov 15-3303 Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4405 Dinner Lab_Dec 12-5434

The locations alone are enough to build excitement and anticipation at each dinner.  But the more amazing aspect of these events is in the execution.  There are no real kitchens used for cooking and there are no existing front of the house spaces used for dining.  Still, there is no detail left untouched – from the tables and chairs, the water bottles and makeshift kitchens (that are assembled every single dinner), as well as every aspect of service that is meticulously choreographed.
Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4626 Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4678 Dinner Lab Oct 10-27 Dinner Lab_Dec 12-5371 Dinner Lab - Sept 26
Dinner Lab_Nov 15-3323 Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4833

Each of these dinners provides a way to break out of the routine no typical dinner can at any restaurant.  For the chefs, Dinner Lab provides them with a platform to tell their story and test new concepts.  For the diners, they are given a channel to provide direct feedback on their meal, as well as first-hand access to the chefs and staff that created the experience.
Dinner Lab_Dec 12-5491 Dinner Lab_Dec 12-5273 Dinner Lab Oct 10-35 Dinner Lab Oct 10-180 Dinner Lab - Sept 26 Dinner Lab - Sept 26 Dinner Lab_Nov 15-3515 Dinner Lab_Nov 15-3538 Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4707 Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4795

As a social experiment, the power of food is tested at every event.  Because there are no assigned seats or tables, diners are able to break the norms of socializing only within their group.  And the common thread of their love for food brings freedom to allow them to engage amongst strangers.
Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4587 Dinner Lab - Sept 26Dinner Lab_Dec 12-5247Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4732 Dinner Lab_Dec 3-4676 Dinner Lab_Nov 15-3661

Today, Dinner Lab has expanded into 10 cities: New Orleans, Austin, Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, DC, and Atlanta. Due to high volume of interest, membership may be currently sold out.  But sign up for the waitlist because I can guarantee that there will be many interesting and exciting dinners in store in 2014!

To check out past New York Dinner Lab events, click here.

Dinner Lab_Dec 12-5536

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