Is Gilt the Next Living Social?

Categories: Review Debut
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Founded in 2007 by former execs from DoubleClick, eBay, and Louis Vuitton, e-commerce site Gilt.com has been called "the darling of luxury-obsessed shoppers" by Fast Company. How does it relate to food? Gourmands with expensive tastes who become members shop for high-end seafood, meat, cheeses, drinks, condiments, you name it -- at a value, like a sample sale.

The site has also lured some top names in food writing to pen content. Under the Stories banner, you'll find editorial from former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, writer Francis Lam, New York Times writer Melissa Clark, and Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland.

Keep perusing Gilt.com and you'll find a section for cities. This is where it's relevant to diners in New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, D.C., and our own market.

On Gilt Miami today, for example, $60 worth of stone crabs delivery for $30 is a waitlisted item. The site also affords access to events like the sold-out Palm Beach Food and Wine Grand Chef Tasting tonight, a $150 ticket event hosted by the Food Network's Scott Conant.

They're a blip now, but Gilt dining events could become as buzzy as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. By hiring the festival's founder, Lee Schrager, as "chief lifestyle advisor," Gilt's city sites are poised to become dynamos of the discount dining scene. South Florida and New York are the first metro areas of focus because of Schrager's affiliation with them. Other city's plans will roll out in the coming year.

For this week's review, I decided to see what Gilt is all about by attending one of the first staged in Fort Lauderdale, at East End Brasserie. While researching, I spoke with Schrager on his thoughts about Gilt city sites and his role for the website.

Were you a Gilt member before you partnered with it in April?

I had a relationship with them because of the festivals and had been impressed with their response to events, yet I did not realize the extent the site had to offer until I was approached to work with them. Now I buy stuff on Gilt all the time. I just bought a spa package from a place near my house.

What percentage of your dining deals are focused on one-time events versus the "redeem by" range?

Gilt gives unique access to events and restaurants, such as a meet and greet, a special chef dinner, or tickets to something that's sold out, like Palm Beach Food and Wine. Our most successful series since I've started was a month of chefs at a mansion in the Hamptons. It was  just under a month of fine dining from Nobu, ABC Kitchen. It was a really great experience.

As far as discounts? The recession has affected everything. We're all looking for opportunities that offer value. Yet if you look around, fine dining places that do it well are still busy. I'm seeing this in cities all around the country. People will pay for good food at good prices. Here's what has changed: People are dining out differently. They might get fewer appetizers, less expensive wine.That's where our value opportunities come in.

What kind of flexibility do restaurants have in creating menus for Gilt events?

We let the experts do their job. The restaurants and Gilt are in a partnership in which we let people do what they know how to do. We help with the details and promotion.

What's the difference between Gilt events and, say, Living Social? And what's the benefit for a chef linking to a Gilt event?

Living Social just had a partnership with McDonald's. We would never do that. We are creating experiences for diners. For example, we might have a chef's night in which the kitchen creates a spread that's beyond what's available on the menu, during which the chef makes rounds in the dining room. People love these experiences and it culls more customers who will come back and dine.


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