Studies show that most of us are eating alone more and more often. In an era of online social networking, leisure in general is becoming increasingly solitary. Pair that up with a tough economy and the growing price of going out with friends, and you’ve got a pretty difficult world for creating and strengthening personal relationships.
Enter Zokos.com—a site that brings us back together in real life over food. The founders believe we’re happier when we’re more intimate with our friends—and isn’t eating together one of the best ways to do that? They set out to discover why we don’t get together as much as we’d like. In a perfect world, everyone would love hosting get-togethers. But in reality, some people love throwing and some people love going. Zokos—a word they made up to encompass dinner parties, cocktail parties, tailgates, picnics, BBQs, garden parties, fundraisers, and every other type of social occasion—are about empowering hopeful hosts to throw better get-togethers, more often.
The site breaks down barriers to entertaining. “Friend-funding” (versus crowd-funding a la Kickstarter) allows guests to chip-in so the host doesn’t have to pay for everything. That opens the door to making get-togethers more special—lobster anyone? A “friends-of-friends” feature encourages RSVP-ed guests to invite friends of their own. The result is more collaborative parties that allow us to spend time with friends in real life and expand our networks in a natural, comfortable way.
Like other crowd-funding sites, the host sets a goal. Unlike other crowd-funding sites, the goal is a number of people, not a number of dollars. Rather than saying “I’m having a party. You should come,” it’s like saying “Let’s have a party! Who’s with me?” When enough people commit, the party is on. The chip-in encourages friends to RSVP seriously, so fewer people flake at the last minute. The host sets a maximum number of guests too, creating urgency so people don’t wait until the last possible moment to RSVP. Guests and hosts can even collaborate to plan the menu.
The idea first originated when the founders took part in a veggie dinner club as graduate students at Yale. When the group grew to over 450 members, they quickly realized the benefits extended far beyond a home-cooked meal each week. Each dinner had 10-20 students from various graduate programs. While the gatherings were centered around food, the real benefit came from friendships formed within the community. Zokos took the idea to several other universities before creating a site that anyone can use.
The name “Zokos” references the centuries-old Basque gastronomical societies known as “txokos.” Members collectively chip-in to purchase a house where they take turns cooking for each other. These clubs still exist today and are central nodes for culinary exploration and cultural preservation.
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