You’ve just arrived for a few days of exploring Madrid, Charleston or the Berkshires. You’re looking forward to eating authentic local food but instead of going to a restaurant you head to a stranger’s house where a group of other diners you’ve never met will share food and drinks. Welcome to the new sharing economy.
To travel is to immerse yourself in new experiences. New sights, people, sounds, and foods. It’s part of the allure of wandering. Something that in light of recent events we need to do now more than ever.
In the past few years the sharing economy has made the doing easy. We can now stay at a Parisian’s home and get tips on their favorite spots to visit or share a ride with a stranger in New Orleans and marvel at the architecture of the French Quarter. Companies like AirBnB and Lyft changed the way we travel when it comes to transportation and where to stay and now a host of new companies are changing how we experience food.
Part social network, part reservation system, part travel guide, these companies connect people in certain locations with hosts willing to cook for them. Sometimes the host is a professional chef and the dinner is at venue, other times the dinner is in someone’s home and they’re the cook.
The idea came to Meal Sharing co-founder Jay Savsani when he was traveling in Cambodia. Sharing a meal with a local and his family on a small farm outside of Siem Reap was magical, full of new foods and a discussion on Pol Pot. Savsani went back to the U.S. thinking of a way to bring people together over home cooked meals. Today, Meal Sharing, which is geared towards travelers and home cooks willing to host, is in more than 150 countries. And it’s far from the only one. Feastly connects travelers with food professionals hosting pop-up events in a given place. Plate Culture, which is more popular in Southeast Asia, tries to introduce people to both traditional meals and the customs surrounding the meal. And that’s only to name a few.
At first it sounds daunting. You’re going to a stranger’s home for a meal in a possibly strange city. But we’re already willing to stay in a stranger’s home, or get a ride from one. Sharing a meal isn’t that different. Hosts have to sign up on one of the platforms as do potential diners. After which, depending on the site, hosts will post different details about the meals they are offering including time, type of food, price, and location. Diners can go in, read reviews of previous meals a host has given, and select what makes sense for them. Options vary by place and day of the week. Prices range by platform but tend to be on par or even less expensive than eating at a restaurant. Most of the companies are taking a cut of the profit from the host.
If the amount of companies offering up the service is any indication, the food sharing economy is here to stay and it has the potential to change the way we experience food while traveling or even in our hometowns.