We all know the sharing economy is not going anywhere. Companies like Lyft, Uber and Airbnb have changed the way we travel in our hometowns and new cities, creating tools that allow strangers to meet by chance in a shared ride or home stay. But when it comes to food, the sharing landscape is still emerging.
Enter Meal Sharing: the start-up inspired by food, travel and meeting new people. Co-founders Jay Savsani and Matt Gilk started Meal Sharing with the belief that it’s the “halfway point between a food marketplace and a social network.” Experienced travelers, Gilk and Savsani found one flaw in their search for the most authentic hole-in-the-wall restaurant where locals eat. “We found we were eating next to locals, not with locals,” says Jay. With this in mind, they took it upon themselves to create an outlet for travelers and locals alike to share a meal in the most authentic place they could imagine: in someone’s home.
The idea of arriving at a stranger’s home for dinner can be a little daunting. But with the success of Airbnb and ride-sharing apps like Lyft, the perceived risk of traveling with a stranger or giving someone the keys to your home is drastically reduced, breaking down barriers to entry for Meal Sharing. On the company’s website, meal hosts are required to have a profile with their basic information like who they are and why they host meals. The profile also aims to connect you to a prospective host on a more personal level by sharing memories of a favorite home-cooked meal and travel experience. Much like other sharing-economy companies, hosts and guests are also peer rated and reviewed, so a future guest can have a well-rounded idea of what a particular host will offer.
Meal Sharing’s technology is simple. Users are greeted with a list of popular cities and a search bar for anything that’s unlisted. From there, organized meals with available seats are listed as well as the opportunity to request a meal, should the listed dates not align with travel schedules. Users are also given the option to search by meal type (Thanksgiving’s an option!) and dietary preferences.
All of this begs the question: Is the food any good? By building a community of home cooks inviting people into their homes, the Meal Sharing team is putting a lot of trust in not only the quality of the experience but also the quality of the food. When asked about this, the founders noted that many users who were wary of their own culinary skills were encouraged by meals they attended and wound up becoming hosts in their home cities.
Although the company is built upon food, it’s merely a backdrop. The ultimate goal is to create an opportunity to meet new people in real life and make meaningful connections. The meal ideally facilitates this by breaking down barriers or any awkward pauses. Unlike approaching a stranger at a bar, guests are already in the same room with the intention of meeting each other. Users have noted that Meal Sharing introduced them to new jobs and significant others. Opportunities like these can be found in any of the 125 countries Meal Sharing hosts live.
Savsani noted that more than other cities, New Yorkers seem open to enjoying a meal with strangers. “They get it.” Credit it to the city’s endemic isolation or the fact that we New Yorkers love to connect.