A members-only dining club plans to serve its first exclusive dinner in Denver in two weeks. Tasting Collective gives restaurants a shot at filling the house on a slow night and insight into what diners like on the menu while giving diners a six-course menu for $50 and a chance to offer feedback and chat with the chef. But perhaps most important, the dinners create a conversation, with the diners sitting at communal tables and eating family-style and the chef talking about each course and participating in a question and answer at the end of the meal.
“The whole impetus for this is how can we create a different way to experience restaurants with the human side?” says Nat Gelb, who founded the organization in 2016 after gathering a group of friends for dinners at different restaurants in a private dining room. The idea gained momentum, and now Gelb has his New York-based Tasting Collective in seven other cities, including New York, Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Nashville.
Already, The Plimoth, the new American restaurant in North City Park, kicks off the dining experience on June 24.
The idea is pretty simple. Gelb and his team reach out to restaurants in Denver to find out their slow nights, or even a night the restaurant is typically closed, and bring in one to two seatings of members, who get a six-course meal for $50, not including tax and tip. The restaurant then knows how many diners will arrive that night and receive the money charged for the dinner.
As dishes start coming to the table, the chef walks out to talk about the dish, the ingredients, maybe the inspiration behind the restaurant, and more. Some courses feature home runs from the menu, while others might be a new dish the kitchen wants to add to the menu. Diners can jot down their notes on each dish to provide feedback on the menu.
“It’s a show,” Gelb says. “Food starts coming out. Chefs talk about the restaurant, the background. It’s very much about the interaction.”
Gelb likes to focus on smaller, chef-owned restaurants that are doing innovative work in the kitchen. His members, who pay $165 a year to get access to these exclusive dinners, range from people late 20s to folks in their 60s. “They’re having an awesome conversation…with people with a passion for food.”
Places like New York and Philadelphia already have around 1,000 members, who can participate in any dinner within the network from Nashville to San Francisco. Dinners take place about every two weeks.
“Diners love to be the guinea pig and feel like they’re helping,” Gelb says of the feedback he’s received from diners.
Gelb typically has restaurants booked up to three months in advance, and if Tasting Collective repeats a restaurant, he wants a different menu. He also opens up a second seating, or even additional days, if members or the restaurant are seeing the demand.
Membership to Tasting Collective in Denver opens today.
• Tasting Collective [Official Site]