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Peer-to-peer dining turns strangers into friends

The Dinner Party. Good food, great wine, intimate surroundings and interesting conversation with old friends or new acquaintances. What’s not to like? Maybe just that you have to wait for someone you know to invite you to one, or make time to host one yourself?

Well not anymore. With tech-enabled peer-to-peer dining spreading across the country, there could be a table waiting for you every night of the week.

Peer-to-peer dining is the “it’s just like Uber for…” home-cooked meals. There are now several online marketplaces that connect willing cooks and adventurous eaters looking for a home-based alternative to a restaurant meal. The basic model for each service is the same, but the amount of quality control varies across platforms.

Mealsharing and Cookening are both global supper club platforms that are active in some US cities. Both sites handle meal listings, user profiles, bookings and payments. Meal listings include everything from menu descriptions to dress code and parking so diners know what they are getting into. Both sites encourage reviews of dinner participants, the food and the overall experience, a version of the reputation-based quality control system used in other sharing economy sectors.

EatWith, another global platform active in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, uses the same basic model but also offers third party liability insurance for hosts, and an “EatWith Verified” certification for hosts that meet high quality and safety standards. Feastly, a platform operating primarily in Washington DC, New York City and San Francisco, sets strict guidelines for food safety in host kitchens and vets every chef that joins the online community, a process that may involve tastings and home visits.

Even peer-to-peer giant Airbnb is experimenting with dinner parties on demand. Their San Francisco pilot will let diners eat at a local resident’s home for $25 for a 3-course meal. If they go for it, Airbnb will enter a market already served by Suppershare, a peer-to-peer dining platform that donates $1 per seat to charity.

At the simplest level, peer-to-peer dining expands the options for eating good food and meeting cool people. For passionate home cooks, hosting a dinner is a way to share a favorite dish, meet new people and maybe make a bit of cash doing something you love. Professional chefs also participate in their off time, to test new recipes and to reconnect with the less commercial side of what they do.

Julia Child, one of the great foodies of our time, said, “people who love to eat are always the best people.” Peer-to-peer dining platforms are giving urbanites more choices to connect over food, and really, choice is what cities are all about.

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