Eating Out at a Home Restaurant: Should the Government Regulate Paid Dinner Parties?

Part two of a four-part series on the sharing economy.


Ai is a master chef, and about twice a week, she and her boyfriend Matt host a group of strangers at their home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to enjoy a gourmet Japanese meal. Their guests find them through a website called EatWith, which makes it possible for diners to book a reservation, not in a restaurant, but in the home of a chef. Each guests pays Ai and Matt a fee of $41, and EatWith takes a 15 percent cut.

EatWith's Hila Katz |||

EatWith, which is now in 30 countries, won't divulge its sales numbers, but the company says it has thousands of open applications from potential hosts and that its volume is rapidly expanding.

"When you come to a dining experience with EatWith, there's an element to the social and human experience that you're not going to get anywhere else," says Hila Katz, EatWith's New York City community manager. "Around a table sit strangers and friends together, great food, a glass of wine, and good conversation, magical things are going to happen."

But if these home restaurants become more common, the city may start issuing fines that would force hosts like Matt and Ai out of business. New York City Department of Health Spokesperson Veronica Lewin told Bloomberg Businessweek, "People who offer meals to the public for money…need permits…The city does not allow meals to be served to members of the public in someone's home."

"If you're [hosting dinners] every day there should be some sort of regulation, because you're closer to becoming a restaurant," says EatWith's co-founder and CEO Guy Michlin.

EatWith chef Ai prepares desert. |||

But why should the government have any say over what people eat—or charge for—in the privacy of their own dining rooms? Unlike at a restaurant, EatWith guests get to socialize with the person cooking their meal, and the kitchen is often wide open for everyone to see how the food is being handled and prepared.

"The sharing economy is changing paradigms," says Katz. "I have no doubt that there's a real hunger for more human interactions, and it's those real connecting experiences that will linger with a guest for much longer after the dinner is ended."

Click here to watch Reason TV's entire series on the sharing economy.

About 3:40 minutes.

Written, shot, and produced by Jim Epstein.

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  1. NYC wants to regulate more shit? The hell you say.

    1. The progressive view is my body, my choice. This must be republican shenanigans.

      1. You can choose from among the following for your body; abortion tools in your hoo-haw, or penises in your bim-bum.

        1. or a blunt in you cocksucker

      2. “Since when were liberals or progressives into controlling what people can do with their bodies & lives? Aren’t we the ones who are for freedom of choice & more sensible drug laws?”

        Never forget.

      3. Your body, your choice. Unless you want to smoke marihuana. Perhaps women should smoke pot through their vaginas and men through their bums. It would make for an interesting Supreme Court session, no?

        1. Marijuana isn’t the problem. It’s regular tobacco that’s the anti-christ. Because Big Tobacco KKKochporations.

        2. Your body, your choice.

          Unless you want to use your body to cook food and then serve it to other people.

      4. “The progressive view is my body, my choice”

        Right, because the only thing progressives hate more than regulations is bureaucracy.

        “This must be republican shenanigans.”

        I’m not sure where you got the idea that progressive is the opposite of republican.

  2. If the government has the time to do this, they are clearly over staffed and over funded – start the chainsaws.

    1. The cupboard is bare!


  3. “If you’re [hosting dinners] every day there should be some sort of regulation, because you’re closer to becoming a restaurant,” says EatWith’s co-founder and CEO Guy Michlin.

    So please don’t shut my business down or arrest me, guys! I’m on your side! Mostly.

    1. So how long before this expands into restricting cooking at home for your own family?

      1. Look, you can take your life into your own hands if you want, but I’d feel much safer if Michelle Obama personally vetted my family’s fish tacos.

      2. It’s more likely to go down the “you can serve food to guests as long as they don’t pay for it” route, which will quickly get amended into “you can serve food to guests as long as they don’t pay for it or exchange any other non-food related consideration for you services. Any consumable form of payment must be entirely consumed by the conclusion of the event, or any leftovers recorded and reported to the State on form FU-49289.”

    2. Oh, but if you call it “sharing” maybe the jackbooted progressives will leave you alone.

      Just make nice and mouth some platitudes to the official state religion. Massa likes a good slave.

  4. My wife watches that show Chopped on food network. The chefs who compete often run underground or “pop up” restaurants where they take over someone’s kitchen for an evening. Some of that is the result of it just taking a lot of money to buy the equipment and start a restaurant. But some of it also is the result of the restaurant industry being so regulated that it is virtually impossible to break into it without a lot of money backing you up.

    The people who have made it and have brick and mortar restaurants have every incentive to use the government to stick it to any up and coming competitors. That is all this law is, using the government as an enforcer against competition for existing businesses. It will sold as being done in the name of “health and safety” but that is a complete lie.

    The worst part of it is that not only is it just the government protecting businesses from fair competition, it will result in the government further controlling everyone else’ lives. You want to have that pot luck dinner for your rec league basketball team? Well you better think again because big brother might think you are running a restaurant and make you answer to the man.


    1. I think there are like 4 guys who basically own the DC restaurant market.

      1. Pretty much. Outside of the really small ethnic ones, who are probably run by or at least pay protection money to their local mafia, all of them are owned by a few closely held corporations.

      2. I can see Jose Andres being in the bag for more regulations. And his paella sucks.

        1. Jaleo is generally disappointing and has gotten more so over the last few years. It is only good for getting piss dunk on sangria, which is of course quite fun on the right afternoon.

          1. I ate there once and was not impressed. Of course I was there with my ultra-progressive girlfriend and her friends so that might have had something to do with it.

          2. I have to admit, I would love to eat at Minibar just once. It’s the closest I will ever get to the defunct El Bulli.

            1. Bulli was on my list. Was.

              1. Have you ever seen the documentary on El Bulli? I don’t know how whatisface was so successful with what seemed to be such a money pit. The staffing levels alone were crazy. He must not have paid anyone anything.

                1. Was that the one where they revealed that there were 60-something chefs working in the kitchen?

                  1. I think so – it had no narration and showed the process of how they developed recipes.

                2. Correct. I think most of the staff were working as “interns”. I.e. unpaid but enthusiastic workers. Looks good on your resume.

            2. I went to FFB this weekend. For being so trendy, it was actually really good. I was impressed and I don’t easily impress.

            3. I was able to eat at Cafe Milano once. Not too shabby.

              Still, the best part to me were the olives they set out before th emeal. White, red and green, lightly brined and delicious. I could dined on those alone.

          3. He’s opening a new one. Peruvian/Chinese fusion. like his spot in Vegas.

    2. They sort of tried to outlaw pot luck dinners here in Sunny Minnesota a few years back. Unfortunately they ran into enough resistance they passed a law giving waivers to church pot lucks.…..0616.shtml

      Even though the worse parts of the law were avoided it is sort of depressing that they couldn’t just repeal the original law. And I sort of suspect that if they hadn’t actually fucked up and personally impacted a state legislator, even this modest reform wouldn’t have been successful.

      1. Outlaw potlucks in MN? Of all the states I’ve lived in or visited, I’d say potluck dinners are more part of the MN culture than any other place.

        1. No kidding, they would have a Lutheran uprising.

          FREE OUR HOT DISH!

          1. You will pry my lutefisk from my cold dead hands!

            Q. What is the difference between lutefisk and boogers?
            A. 5 year olds will eat boogers

  5. These businesses often win breathless praise on tech blogs for “disrupting” stodgy industries as part of the “sharing economy.” But when you look past such lofty talk, money’s changing hands. People are selling services or renting assets. That’s commerce, not sharing.

    Scary stuff.

    1. Someone might be making a *hushed tones* profit.

  6. It’s amazing how the “sharing economy” should be right up the progressive alley according to what they say they believe in, yet they and the politicians and bureaucrats they support hate it to its very foundation. Once again, we see that all they care about is CONTROL.

    1. They love sharing, just as long as they control what is shared and how. We can’t have people out doing unregulated and uncontrolled sharing. It would be chaos.

    2. But what if people share unhealthy foods, Epi? As much as it pains progressives, they must use the government to nudge people who aren’t as enlightened as themselves. With great freedom comes great risk, and risk is the worst thing in the universe except for climate denialism.

    3. But…but…dirty dirty money is changing hands!!!!

    4. The only “sharing” those assholes care about is sharing the hard-earned money of producers with the takers so they can get their votes.

      The concept of individual rights to them dies the moment the woman walks out the exit door of an abortion clinic.

    5. It’s not sharing, and I don’t care if progressives don’t like it.

      I want to rub AirBnb in their stupid, facist faces, and make them eat it.

  7. “People who offer meals to the public for money…need permits?The city does not allow meals to be served to members of the public in someone’s home.”

    “If you’re [hosting dinners] every day there should be some sort of regulation, because you’re closer to becoming a restaurant,” says EatWith’s co-founder and CEO Guy Michlin.

    And people tell me Progressivism is not a religion. They don’t even consider that you might need some justification to regulate something or that the hassle of doing so might be greater than the need to do so. To them it is a “business” and businesses must be regulated and controlled. How could anyone think otherwise?

    1. So if one of my aunts on the Greek side decides she wants to feed the family every night because she has the big house and the big kitchen and the husband with the money job she now runs a restaurant?

      1. Yup. You know that is where that will go. Once they start regulating this the people who do so will want to build an empire and justify their jobs. So they will regulate more and more until finally anyone who accepts a bottle of wine from a dinner guest will be breaking the law.

        1. Actually, I think if I bring a bottle with my from VA to family in MD, I’m breaking the law.


            yep. that case of wine i bring for the big family Christmas party. illegal.

            1. I was unable to mail a bottle of wine (98 Barboursville Cab Reserve!) to my Pa for Father’s Day. Fucking ridiculous.

              1. I hope you drank it to his honor, instead.

          2. I’m pretty sure you are too, didn’t someone at reason write an article or two about that several years ago?

      2. To be sure, some people are more equal than others. Does she know anyone on the city council, or any fixers with juice?

    2. You see, businesses are all motivated by their own interests and a desire for profits. Because of this they cannot be trusted, and they must be regulated by public servants.
      What was that? Did you suggest that public servants might also be motivated by personal interests and a desire for power? *stern tone* How dare you suggest something like that? These people serve the public! They are selfless! They care only for others! They are government, as in “We the People!” They’re us! You fucking better well fucking trust them! It’s businesses who are them! They’re the enemy! They are the profiteers who can’t be trusted! Who the fuck do you think you are?

  8. You can bet that if it does become regulated there will be fictitious tales of how regulation was necessary to prevent supposed deaths and illnesses that were taking place.

  9. How soon before they raid one of these places? After enjoying the meal, of course.

    1. So kind of like Johnny Depp in Once Upon a Time in Mexico? Eat the pork, then shoot the chef to maintain balance?

  10. I suspect most of these NYC foodies want more regulations and permits for everyone else, just not for them.

    1. The proggies I have met are so devoid of creativity that the likelihood anyone would want to have hem prepare a meal is nonexistent. Upstart chefs are almost exclusively freedom-minded risk-takers that abhor the government intervention into their business startups.
      Of course, once they become entrenched in the marketplace, they often become as protectionist as most other business owners, but they are typically more likely to do so by using zoning as opposed to the heavy hand of health inspectors.

  11. We’re firmly ensconced in the Qin dynasty system of legalism. It’s kind of a progressive paradise, actually.

    1. Legalism helped to create a superior army, a disciplined bureaucracy, an obediant populace, and the unquestioned authority of a strong central government.

  12. I can see potluck dinners getting a close look in the near future.

  13. OT:

    Has anyone else noticed a lot of Police officer does nice thing stories lately?

    1. I’ve noticed the linked story multiple times. Does that count?

    2. He bought the kid a Wii? A fucking Wii?!?!?!?!?!

      I didn’t know black kids lived in Auschwitz.

    3. Yeah, it’s almost like there’s some sort of PR blitz to counter bad cop stories.

  14. EatWith, which is now in 30 countries, won’t divulge its sales numbers

    Bet it won’t divulge its e-coli and salmonella numbers, either.


  15. You had me at ‘should the government regulate…’

  16. Do we have to call it the “sharing economy”?

    First of all, it’s not sharing if people are getting paid for it.

    Secondly, it makes me want to puke.

    I get that calling it sharing makes retarded progressives think well of it, but have absolutely no desire to cater to the ignorant preconceptions of retarded progressives.

  17. Should the Government Regulate Paid Dinner Parties?

    Only if it should regulate restaurants – it’s the same answer, because it’s the same question.

    It’s paying money to have someone cook for you; “a dinner party at their home” vs. “a restaurant” is only a measure of the exclusivity of the activity, not that it’s “having them feed you, for money”.

    I’m inclined to a “no” answer on first principles, but NY is at least being merely consistent in wanting to regulate “paid dinner parties” like the [specialized, high-interaction] “restaurants” they are in practice.

    Deregulate restaurants, by all means.

    But no “special exemptions” for “paid dinner parties”, either. The best way to remove excess regulation or bad laws is to actually apply them, to produce motivation to remove them.

    (As Hazel says, this ain’t sharing, it’s commerce, no matter what EatWith flacks want to call it.)

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