Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

EatWith, an Airbnb for Dinner Parties, Sets Its Sights on U.S. Cities

In the growing “sharing” economy, online communities are offering peer-to-peer services for almost anything — apartment rentals (Airbnb), car rides (Lyft), house cleaning (Exec), shelf-building (TaskRabbit), laundry pick-up (I mean, really) and many other tasks and experiences.

EatWith is one such website, and this one, as its name implies, lets you eat with local families while traveling, instead of falling into tourist traps. And now the year-old, Israeli-based startup is expanding into the U.S., starting in New York City.

Here’s how EatWith works: If you’re interested in hosting, an EatWith representative will swing by to meet with you, check out your digs and judge your cooking. If deemed worthy, you then set up a profile and advertise your own brunches, lunches and dinner parties, often with themes (such as a Cinco de Mayo brunch, a contemporary Thai-Brazilian feast, or a “crazy dinner of borscht and flautas”). Hosts also set a suggested donation per attendee.

If you’re a guest seeking a slice of local life, you can search the website by location and apply for a seat at a gathering nearby. The host will assess your online profile, start a dialogue with you and decide whether to accept you as a guest.

Most gatherings range in price per guest from $25 to $50. EatWith then takes a 15 percent cut of each transaction.

In other words, it’s like Airbnb for meals.

EatWith has been up and running in Israel, the U.K, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe, with several hundred hosts signed up. It’s officially launching in New York City this coming weekend — where pop-up dinner parties are already, well, popping up — and some hosts are testing the waters in Las Vegas, Houston and Miami.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago are next on the company’s list, though EatWith would only say those will launch “in the coming months.”

“There are so many ways to communicate now — we can talk very easily with Skype, text, everything,” said Maya Lerner, a partner at EatWith. “But people don’t meet face-to-face as much anymore. We want to help make that happen, especially while people are traveling and want tips on the area.”

But that means that EatWith — and other companies like it — also face the same potential issues that other peer-to-peer services do: What happens when you let a “bad egg” into your kitchen (or your car, or your home)?

Right now, EatWith screens hosts simply by interviewing them in person — no criminal background checks — and hosts vet their guests by checking out their profiles.

Lerner said that EatWith followed the incident that Airbnb would like everyone to forget about, and hence has a $1 million insurance policy to cover any damages that might occur. “We clearly state our safety policies on the homepage,” Lerner says. “We have an EatWith guarantee.”

The guarantee, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a five-star meal — but it’s likely a travel experience you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work