Niche-subject or audience focused mail newsletters, such as DailyCandy and Thrillist, have actually proven to be a successful model. Of course, both of these examples have been graced with the midas touch of Bob Pittman, who has been called “most successful investor in newsletter space.” One of Pittman’s more recent ventures, Tasting Table, has flown under the radar, but has seen significant growth and even profitability with its model.
Launched in October 2008, Tasting Table provides free daily emails with local recommendations of dining, wine, cocktails, cooking or food travel. Currently, Tasting Table has editions for New York, LA, San Francisco, Washington DC and Chicago. Emails are sent out right before lunch in each city, says CEO Geoff Bartakovics, as to appeal to users when they are hungry and thinking about food options. In 20 months of operation, the site has 300,000 subscribers and according to Pittman, is the fastest growing email publication he has backed given Tasting Table’s age.
And Tasting Table has other verticals besides local editions. Bartakovics says the National Edition (food and and drink recommendations you can enjoy anywhere in the country) and a Chefs’ Recipes editions (unpublished recipes from top chefs, which Tasting Table staff modifies for the home cook) are growing fast.
In terms of the business model, Tasting Table’s revenue is mainly based around advertisers who buy ad space around its editorial content. Advertisers include, LVMH, American Express, Le Creuset and Heineken. In year one, Tasting Table’s revenue was just under $1 million and the startup was profitable. This year Bartakovics says Tasting Table is on track to earn $3 to $4 million in revenue.
Of course, for any food oriented review site, a knowledgeable staff is crucial to establish credibility. Of the 17 time full time employees, six of the staff have degrees from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and many hail from mainstream foodie media publications such as Food and Wine. Bartakovics says that what separates Tasting Table from its competitors, like Urban Daddy and local food blogs, is that its writers try the establishment, whether it be a bar or a restaurant, several times, and then sends along recommendations based on their experiences. Every recommendation on the newsletter, says Bartakovics has been tested by a staff writer.
While consider myself a fledgling foodie and am already a fan of Tasting Table after only receiving the emails for a few days, I reached out to the most serious foodies I know, the folks over at WinedAndDined, a rapidly growing local New York food blog started by two lawyers, Jill and Andy Freedman. Wined and Dined concurs that the newsletter’s restaurant and bar offers and content makes it a must-read for any epicurian. For example, Tasting Table recently partnered with Wines of Rioja to promote the Wines of Rioja Restaurant Week featuring special menus and deals at restaurants in New York City.
And Tasting Table’s content has even caught the attention of startups for partnerships. For example, popular location-based mobile social network Loopt integrates Tasting Table-approved restaurants and bars and reviews within Loopt Pulse on Loopt’s mobile app, joining content from Zagat and Citysearch.
As traditional food publications like Gourmet Magazine shutter, there is an opportunity for startups to provide quality food content with the feel of immensely popular review sites like Yelp and Citysearch. Of course, the challenge is in scaling this to cities across the country and even outside of the U.S. But it seems that Tasting Table is on track to perhaps turning into a Yelp for foodies.