LivingSocial launching exclusive food events

October 17, 2011 By RACHEL METZ , AP Technology Writer

(AP) -- Online deals site LivingSocial is launching an invitation-only service aimed at food fans, offering experiences such as a visit to an environmentally sustainable farm or a meal served in a restaurant's kitchen.

LivingSocial Gourmet's events will be more expensive - and less common - than the food-related deals currently available on LivingSocial, where you might pay $20 to get a voucher good for $40 worth of at a local pizzeria.

Instead, the deals will be with fine-dining restaurants and other businesses in the and will range from around $100 to $200 per person, LivingSocial Gourmet's general manager Alli Phillips said. The service will also offer group packages, she said.

"These are a higher price point because they're unique and exclusive and appeal to folks that are willing to pay for something unique and interesting," Phillips said.

The service will initially be available to 100,000 LivingSocial members in the company's hometown of Washington, D.C., which Phillips said was chosen for its food scene and the company's existing relationships with local restaurateurs. LivingSocial hopes to offer it by the end of the year in 10 major cities, including San Francisco, New York and Chicago. The company has more than 35 million active members in the U.S. and 47 million around the world.

LivingSocial Gourmet's first event will be a tasting menu with wine pairings and cheese at Washington restaurant CityZen. It will cost $250 per guest including tax and tip. A deal for groups with essentially the same menu will cost $1,000 for a table of four.

Other events in the works include a trip to a Washington-area sustainable farm for a tour and food tasting. Also planned is a visit to a restaurant's cheese caves to learn how cheese is made and how to pair it with food.

The service could be attractive to higher-end restaurants that have so far been unwilling to work with deals sites including LivingSocial and its larger , Groupon, for fear of diluting their brands. Indeed, it will be the first time CityZen is working with LivingSocial.

Jarad Slipp, CityZen's restaurant director, said the company wanted to try something new, but didn't want to devalue the CityZen brand by offering discounts. Still, the price of the meal his restaurant is offering through LivingSocial Gourmet "certainly works out to the guest's advantage," he said.

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