When Steve Ambrose decided he wanted to explore more new Buffalo eateries, he didn’t just make reservations — he started a business. In just over a year, the Buffalo Dinner Club has blossomed into a vehicle for folks to eat, drink and socialize throughout the year.
“I have been a professional selling to the restaurant industry since 2012. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting tons of restaurant owners along the way and I wanted to help them increase their brand awareness through social media,” said Ambrose.
“I figured if I could get a solid group of friends to check out new restaurants each month, I’d be helping the restaurant owners and also giving me the opportunity to meet more of them.”
Ambrose created a Facebook page as a way to invite friends out to dine.
“All of a sudden, we had 600 likes within a few months. It was then that the Buffalo Dinner Club took on a whole new life,” Ambrose said.
He notes February 2017 as his official start date, with the first event at SeaBar.
“We had 25 people,” he said. Events have dramatically changed since. “We initially just had people come and pay their own bills and choose off of a pre-fixe menu. This was the structure for the first three events, until it became unmanageable due to growing numbers of people attending events,” said Ambrose.
Now he works with restaurant owners and chefs to create a unique pre-fixe, three-course meal (members get choice of one appetizer, entrée, dessert and complimentary drink).
“We sold out all 11 events and had about 50 people at each event. In September, we had 72 members join us for our official launch party aboard the Grand Lady Cruises. Restaurants have had to shut down for the club as we fill the venue for them for the evening,” he said.
Now it’s restaurants reaching out to Ambrose on social media to schedule events.
“They see how much awareness and buzz we are creating for restaurants who host events. I am looking to do two events a month this year,” he said.
Tickets are a set price and vary depending on the meal, but usually range within $45 to $50 per person, plus a cash bar. (Gratuity may or may not be included depending on venue.)
“Often there will be Buffalo Dinner Club drink specials too,” he said. “We’ve teamed up with Lockhouse Distillery for special drink and on-site tastings.”
Ambrose notes the evolution of the membership. At the start, it was mainly friends in his age group. Now, people of all ages and dining experience attend.
“Some are self-proclaimed foodies, others are people who just like to go out and meet new people. Either way, they are active on social media and really help restaurants reach many different backgrounds of people,” he said. “Our tagline is ‘Eat, Drink, Network!’”
Ambrose likes that members meet interesting people they might end up doing business with, a new friend and even a future spouse. But what about the food? Ambrose lets the chefs create a unique menu to showcase what the restaurant is all about. He and the restaurant set a price point and concept, then the restaurant takes it from there.
“Our members love the menu reveal because it is a bit mysterious,” said Ambrose. The dinner also gives chefs a chance to be creative and showcase what they do in the kitchen in a more personal way. If a guest has a specific allergy or dietary concern, the Buffalo Dinner Club can accommodate most.
“We work with chefs to create more options. Our menus usually have a choice of meat, seafood and vegan or vegetarian option so we are doing our best to make sure all can participate,” said Ambrose.
But what about those folks who simply fear trying different foods?
“Some of the restaurants we work with are more eclectic and people may be hesitant to try new foods or go outside of their comfort zone. [But] we have had tremendous success in getting people out to try new foods they normally would not have not tried. People are willing because it’s not just dinner, it’s an actual outing. It puts them in a more open mindset and they are apt to experiment with their taste buds,” he said.
The club has many regulars, but Ambrose notes new people come to each event.
“I absolutely love that we are seeing new faces. Our last event was the best by far when looking at the diversity of the people. People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, etc., can get together and share a meal and great experience.”
And hopefully, a whole lot more.
Story topics: Food + Drink