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

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

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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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