An effort to save restaurants by selling seasonal subscriptions for takeout dinners from top eateries has been a smash success in New York. Now, Summerlong Supper Club is coming to DC.
Here’s how it works: every week for six weeks beginning April 6, members will receive a three-course meal from a different spot. In DC, the all-star lineup of participating restaurants includes Rose’s Luxury, Anju, Sushi Taro, Albi, Cane, and Centrolina. The upfront cost is $360 per person—$60 per meal—for pickups, and $403 for deliveries (tips included). If you’d rather pay as you go, it’s $63 per week, or $70 with delivery.
The program comes from Vinay Gupta, a winemaker with a background in product and brand innovation consulting, along with New York bar industry vets Lynnette Marrero and Ila Byrne. Gupta was in the process of launching a low-alcohol wine brand called Summerlong Wine Co. this spring. But instead of putting money toward marketing, he decided to put it toward something that would help the restaurant industry. Gupta drew inspiration from avant-garde Chicago restaurant Alinea, which sells tickets in advance for meals.
“I thought that’s sort of an interesting idea. What if you could pay for the whole winter in advance?,” Gupta says. Between ever-changing government restrictions and fluctuating patio weather, the pandemic has brought a new level of uncertainty to restaurants. Gupta figured the guaranteed income would give them some security—both financially and emotionally. In New York, the program has brought in a total of $1.2 million for participating restaurants such as Atoboy, Contra, and M. Wells.
“We’ve done a really good job of doubling and tripling—in New York City—the amount of money they make on a weekly business. They’ve hired back a bunch of people on their teams. They’ve come out of survival mode,” Gupta says. “Some of them have said flat-out, ‘This is the thing that’s going to get me through the pandemic.'”
Gupta says Rose’s Luxury approached him about getting a similar subscription service started in DC. Instead, he ultimately volunteered to bring Summerlong here.
The supper club chose popular independent restaurants that are primarily dependent on indoor dining. “At this point, they’ve lost business for a year, so they’re all in a really, really tough spot,” Gupta says. “They’re popular, but they’re definitely in danger of going out of business.”
Gupta says his company isn’t making any money off the supper club—they’re not even taking a cut to cover administrative fees. “This is purely altruistic; we care about the industry,” he says. Other corporate sponsors have joined in to help, and suppliers have offered discounts to the restaurants. Summerlong Super Club is also taking hefty fees from third-party delivery platforms out of the equation by setting up its own delivery system where 100-percent of the fees goes directly to drivers.
Menus for the DC supper club haven’t been published yet, but expect dishes that aren’t otherwise available, whether it’s new creations or the return of old favorites. To make the system manageable for restaurants, no customizations or substitutions are allowed. If there’s a meal that you need to skip for any reason, you can opt to have it donated to a healthcare worker. (Summerlong Supper Club has yet to decide on partner health institutions.)
The supper club launched on Friday with 500 memberships, and the goal of raising $30,000 for each restaurant. Already, half have been sold.
“This is a charitable program, it’s not charity. The restaurants don’t want charity,” Gupta says. “It’s the same amazing relationship that diners and restaurants have always had. It’s just changing the format a little so that it actually becomes really, really critical for restaurants.”