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Airbnb Joins Home Cooks In Trying to Disrupt the Restaurant Sector


Having persuaded millions of travelers to forgo hotels to stay in people’s homes, Airbnb is looking to see if they’ll ditch restaurants, too. According to Reuters, the hospitality site is running a pilot program in San Francisco for people to host home-cooked meals  served in their homes. Airbnb takes a fee.

Similar services have cropped up, including Eatwith, Feastly, and Cookening. They give aspiring cooks a chance to gain experience without having to land a gig at a restaurant while offering customers a new environment to dine in. Aside from concerns about cleanliness and quality, a number of things make home dining a tougher sell than home-sharing.

1. For tourists: Travelers were ready for an alternative to pricey lodging, but dining is different. Unlike hotels, restaurants can provide interesting insight into how locals live and eat. So unless you’re traveling to an exotic locale with a culinary heritage that can only be experienced through a home-cooked meal, there’s probably a popular local joint not too far away that would be fun to check out. As for cost, home dinner parties are not necessarily for the budget traveler, either. One Feastly host in Brooklyn listed a beer and cheese tasting for $43 per person.

2. For hosts: Getting people to list open rooms on Airbnb was easy; they already have the real estate, so why not put it to good use at a lower rate than a hotel would charge? But cooking is labor intensive—especially the kind of cooking that’s worth paying for—and the hosts are expected to entertain on top of that. This requires a lot more effort than making sure the bed has a clean set of sheets.

3. For all other diners: Restaurant meals—the sit-down type, in particular—are often a way to spend precious time with friends and family you probably don’t see often enough. That’s why local restaurants are great: A waiter brings you food and drink while you relax and carry on with your conversation. That’s the contract at a restaurant, which is there to serve you. A good home host must know the right amount of distance to keep; even so, the expected level of interaction between diner and server is completely different when the restaurant is the host’s dining room. It’s potentially awkward. Some customers will find the expectation to chat with their host refreshing; others will want to flee.

Still, sleeping in a stranger’s home seemed a pretty odd idea when Airbnb launched in 2008. For now, the company isn’t giving details. “We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb,” Airbnb said in a statement. “We don’t have any updates to share.”

Venessa-wong-190x190
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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