How DwellSocial partnered with restaurants to increase suburban takeout options
When the COVID-19 pandemic closures hit, Northbrook resident Allen Shulman wanted to help local restaurants make up for lost revenue. The founder of DwellSocial, a platform that connected neighborhoods to home services contractors to get group discounts, applied the same concept to Morton Grove's Pequod's Pizza.
Shulman asked DwellSocial users in Northbrook to sign up if they wanted the pizza brought to a pickup point in the village, and the slots filled up in less than five minutes. He made a second group, and it filled up almost as quickly.
"We started to realize that just because people can't get food because it's too far away doesn't mean they don't want it, doesn't mean they won't go pick it up if it's close by, and certainly doesn't mean that they won't be thrilled to get it," Shulman said. "Unlike home services, food brings happiness. Food brings joy. Food brings people together."
DwellSocial has now entirely pivoted to bringing food from Chicago and suburban restaurants to residents of the North Shore and Western suburbs. Members sign up at dwellsocial.com to see a schedule of what restaurants will be coming to their area and can place an order from a limited menu. If signups hit critical mass, typically 10 people, the restaurant will bring all of the group's orders to a designated time and place.
Participating restaurants and pickup points rotate weekly based on an algorithm DwellSocial uses to keep things fresh. For instance, Libertyville might get a visit from Fulton Market Indian restaurant ROOH one week and Lincoln Park seafood spot Quality Crab & Oyster Bah the next.
"We're really looking to bring different types of cuisines throughout the Chicago area, especially in areas that don't have those kinds of restaurants available," Shulman said. "We try to spread all these restaurants around so they're back in the same place maybe once a quarter."
The platform is working with 45 restaurants including both independent businesses and some of the city's biggest operators. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises has been working with them since September to expand the reach of its restaurants and ghost kitchen concepts.
"It was an easy decision for us," LEYE partner Amarit Dulyapaibul said. "Allen and his team seemed genuinely interested in solving a problem of access in the suburban markets. We're looking for new diners. We're always looking for ways to take care of our existing Lettuce Entertain You frequent diners and this is another asset for us to do that with."
DineAmic Hospitality worked with DwellSocial in February and March to bring River North's Prime & Provisions and Barrio to the suburbs.
"We basically worked with them in order to expand our reach to the suburbs and come out to our existing consumer base that loved our restaurants that might not have felt comfortable coming downtown or even new customers who wanted to try it out and figured now is the perfect time to support people," said marketing director Lindsay Goldberg.
Though they've put the partnership on hold for now to focus on dine-in customers with the easing of indoor dining restrictions and the beginning of patio season, Goldberg said she hopes to work with DwellSocial again later in the summer and expand their partnership to include cocktail kits.
"We really liked being able to go to all these different neighborhoods and hear from our fans in those neighborhoods how it was enjoying the restaurant experience at home," Goldberg said.
While DwellSocial originally offered its platform for free as a way to support restaurants during the pandemic, Shulman just added a 10% service fee to make the business model work long-term. He's still focused on giving back though, asking customers to add on to the typical $5 group fee with the extra going to support local nonprofits and community organizations. During the holiday season DwellSocial charged $10 to join each group and raised $9,200 for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. In the second week of April, the $10 cost will benefit Autism Speaks in honor of World Autism Month.
DwellSocial currently has nearly 25,000 users, and Shulman expects it will hit 50,000 by the end of the year. While the end of the pandemic might make customers go out more, Shulman still said he expects to cater to diners who don't want to brave the traffic for a weeknight dinner.
"Instead of simply being limited to the restaurants that are in your area, we've opened up this beautiful box of opportunities where you now have a greater selection," he said.