Airbnb was built on the premise of letting people share spaces, but sharing meals wasn't really part of that package. Now the company is testing a program in San Francisco that would allow Airbnb users to host dinner parties for their guests — for a fee, of course. (As we all know, sharing isn't free.)
The company this week began inviting San Francisco hosts to participate in the program, according to a Thursday Reuters report. Hosts can plan a menu, pick a price, and list their dinner party on Airbnb. Guests will pay for the privilege of having a home-cooked meal, but prices aren't terribly high — Reuters noted that one of the pilot dinners cost $25 per person, which is comparable to what a meal would cost with tax and tip at a mid-range restaurant.
Airbnb isn't saying much about the program or whether it will roll out to more cities, but the meal-sharing option jibes with the company's quest to become a full-service hospitality company. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has detailed plans to offer cleaning services and a new way to pick up keys, but the meal-sharing feature is a new one.
Several meal-sharing platforms, like Feastly and EatWith, already exist, while others like GrubWithUs have switched gears, and none have quite caught on with average people who prefer to dine with friends instead of strangers. But Airbnb has seen 10 million bookings since it launched seven years ago, so clearly people are comfortable enough with the idea of sharing with strangers to continue using the service. And with its name recognition, Airbnb might be able to convince users that getting to know the people whose homes they rent out for a few nights on vacation can be fun and not creepy.
I booked a dinner on a meal-sharing platform recently and showed up not quite knowing what to expect, aside from the price, location, and menu. While I probably won't turn it into a habit — mainly because if I'm dropping $50 on dinner it better come from a professional chef — sitting down to a meal with strangers is actually far less awkward than you might imagine. Maybe you won't make any new friends, but the potential exists, which is more than you can say at a run-of-the-mill restaurant.
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