One of the few bright spots to come out of the pandemic was the many wine clubs, meal kits, and takeout options that restaurants dreamed up on the fly just to survive. Now that dining out has returned back to “normal,” though, many restaurants are looking to make those at-home options a permanent part of their business models. A New York-based tech startup called Table22 has already taken a strong foothold in DC, helping restaurants formalize the logistics of subscription-based dining and drinking—and allowing them to ramp it up in an even bigger way.
Like so many others, Table22 founder and CEO Sam Bernstein saw his business grind to a halt in the spring of 2020. His previous tech company, LoftSmart, allowed young people to search for and book housing online—a service which became practically obsolete when universities went virtual.
“We had kind of the same come-to-Jesus moment that a lot of restaurants did in March of 2020 where we basically saw the whole business evaporate,” Bernstein says. “I basically came to our board and said, ‘We’re totally screwed. What do you want to do?'”
The board wanted him to—yes, that word again—pivot. So with a trimmed-down staff, he set out to come up with a totally new business. As an “obsessive food and restaurants person,” he landed on the idea of setting up a platform and delivery infrastructure for restaurants to build subscription-based clubs around food and drinks that often aren’t on the regular menu. A big inspiration? Patreon, which helps creators get closer to their fans while building a predictable income stream.
In the less than two years since, Table22 has signed on nearly 300 restaurants across 50 cities nationwide. It expanded to DC about a year ago and now works with 20 restaurants here, including some big names like Rose’s Luxury, Anju, and Federalist Pig. Bernstein says an additional 10 or so are joining the platform over the next couple months.
Rose’s, for example, is offering dinner club and wine club memberships with exclusive monthly tasting menus (starting at $110 for two) and hard-to-find bottles (starting at $70 for two bottles) for delivery or pick up. Kramers, meanwhile, has a book and wine club with monthly reads from your favorite genre paired with your preferred type of bottles (starting at $39). Or if you prefer, swap in a bag of coffee beans for the wine (starting at $29). There’s also a pasta kit club from La Collina in Capitol Hill and gin club from its sister cocktail bar the Wells. While you can sign up for ongoing cancel-anytime subscriptions, many places are also offering gifting options for the holidays.
“Many of our restaurants around the country are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars [a year], including a number in DC,” Bernstein says. “We try not to name who specifically, but I’ve got one partner in DC that’s doing three-quarters of a million dollars of annual revenue [off subscriptions].”
Bernstein notes that the profit margins tend to be better than your typical in-house dining. Because orders come in weeks in advance, restaurants are able to do more efficient and cost-effective batch production with virtually no waste of ingredients. Table22, which provides its own fleet of vehicles and delivery drivers, takes a cut—typically 10 percent—of the subscription revenue.
As for the name Table22? It’s the table Bernstein would often sit at as a regular of New York’s Pascale Jones (which, actually, is not a partner with his company).
“I was there all the time, and it was the first place where I really experienced kind of the magic of being a regular,” he says. “It’s the magic we hope our subscribers will feel.”