A new lifestyle trend could be about to change the way you eat dinner. Are you ready for peer-to-peer dining?
Peer-to-peer dining: using social media to find dinner with strangers
What plans do you have for dinner? Perhaps you're quite the amateur chef and you can't wait to get tonight's pots simmering. Or maybe eating out is more your style. An expensive French restaurant, then? A burger joint? Or you could always order something in.
We've all cycled through the established options a million times. It's a safe bet, though, that none of us will be eating dinner tonight at a stranger's house, alongside other guests whom we don't know. But in the near future - as unlikely as it sounds - that could change.
That's thanks to a new trend currently being brought to life by a spate of online start-ups and the enthusiastic devotees already using them. It's called peer-to-peer dining, and chances are it will soon arrive in a residential street near you.
The UK's Melba (www.melba.co) exemplifies the movement: it's an online platform that connects amateur chefs looking to host dinner in their own homes with diners willing to pay for the experience. Visit the site - currently pretty London-centric - and you can choose between options such as a "A Syrian Supper" in Holland Park for £30 (Dh177), or "The Candlestick Maker's Multicultural British Feast", also £30: all dining experiences are offered in the home of an amateur chef, for a small party (typically between five and 15) of diners.
Similarly, the US-based Feastly (www.eatfeastly.com) - still in private beta - is connecting amateur chefs in New York, Washington and San Francisco with diners who want a home-cooked, restaurant-quality dining experience. And for those who absolutely must make their peer-to-peer dining arrangements on the go, there's an iPhone app: the just-launched SupperKing (www.supperking.com) enables users to search for dining experiences by neighbourhood, connect with other users and rate their experiences.
These informal options are designed to operate outside the formal system of health codes, meaning people must rely on user reviews when it comes to food safety and quality control, much the same as they do with AirBnB (www.airbnb.com).
It's telling that the tech magazine FastCompany recently compared SupperKing to AirBnB, the room-in-my-house sharing platform that exploded in popularity last year. Both SupperKing and AirBnB are aspects of a broader move towards a peer-to-peer economy that represents the start of a historic shift - from formal commercial enterprise - in the way we consume and the way we live.
Of course, it's online connectivity that's fuelling all this peer-to-peer activity, by making it possible for the first time to easily connect an individual who wants something - a room for the night, a car, a meal - to someone nearby who can provide it. And that connectivity - social media specifically - has also helped bring about a relevant cultural shift: changing our conception of privacy by encouraging us to share more of our lives - our news, our holiday snaps - with friends or even near-strangers. With peer-to-peer services, the principles of social networking are being transposed onto the real world. The aim may be to fulfil a direct need, or it may be something less tangible: the SupperKing founder Kai Stubbe says he sees his service not only as a means to find a decent meal, but also to meet new people: the idea for the app came to him when he arrived in the US from Germany in 2008.
Ten years ago, the idea of opening your house to a stranger to provide a bed for the night, or a hot dinner, would have seemed outlandish to many. Today, millions are making their spare rooms available to travellers on AirBnB. How long will it be before they are offering their spaghetti Bolognese, too?
David Mattin is the lead strategist at www.trendwatching.com