While many websites have existed for years, what has changed is the size of these websites (Airbnb had 550,000 listings in 2013, a number that rose to over 1 million in 2014 while Vayable has grown to over 600 destinations), as well as the entrance of so many new players such as BlaBlaCar, Kangaride, Colunching, Camp in My Garden, Relay Rides, Flight Car, and Guided by a Local. 2014 saw a sharp increase in sharing economy players, as well as the average person’s comfort using such services, and the trend will surely continue into the new year.
By now you’ve probably heard of some sort of kitchen swapping service where a chef comes to you or you brave the chef’s home. News of the Airbnb concept coming to the dining room table made headlines last year, but most meal sharing services have still only spread to or survived in major cities, while others passed like a fad.
If you’re new to a city or visiting from out of town, Thanksgiving might feel a bit lonely; same if your family is far away, your roommates are terrible, or you don’t want to spend a lot of money at a restaurant. Meal Sharing—a Chicago-based company that connects urban residents and interested guests for home-cooked meals in over 450 cities worldwide—is organizing its second annual ThanksSharing this year, encouraging people to host Thanksgiving dinners for strangers at their homes. It’s kinda like Airbnb with food, minus the illegal and exploitative parts.
The past 18 months have seen the arrival of four sites offering meals in Bay Area homes: EatWith, CookApp, Feastly and Meal Sharing. Airbnb also tested out a meal-sharing component during the summer but backed away before its official launch. These companies are all attempting to bring the underground restaurant movement into the sharing economy. They promise a mix of globe-trotting idealism, social engineering and economic opportunity. In disruptive style, they turn a blind eye to conventional regulations. The city may not prove equally myopic.
Dining is one of the few businesses that has the potential to reach all consumers— we do have to eat, and the average American household spends almost half of its total food budget on eating out at restaurants. Those businesses are constantly evolving and searching for new revenues. Over the last decade, pop-up underground restaurants have proliferated in large cities across the U.S. For some chefs, they’ve been an entrée to larger commercial operations; for others, they’ve just been fun. But as the sharing economy has expanded in recent years, “meal sharing” has taken on new connotations.
Think of it as Airbnb for diners. Unlike secret supper clubs that have been in the city for years, details of Cookapp dinners are accessible to anyone with Wi-Fi. Guests are encouraged to make a “suggested donation” — typically $40 to $60 (sometimes booze is included, other times it’s BYO) — to cover the host’s costs. The “suggested donation” wording is a means of getting around the NYC Health Department, which does not condone selling meals to the public out of a residence.