The challenge is not finding hosts willing to invite strangers over. It’s finding guests willing to show up.
“My thought was, it must be hard to find these amazing chefs and hosts, and convince them to do it out of their home. That actually hasn’t been the obstacle,” said Susan Kim, the chief executive of EatWith, whose site started in 2012. “When people try it, they love it, but how do we get people to try this new way of experiencing a city or a new way of eating out? It’s been an intellectual conundrum.”
The social-dining companies all come at the premise from different angles. EatWith focuses on travelers, with meals in 200 cities. Feastly signs up professional chefs as hosts. VoulezVouzDîner lets travelers and other diners request hosted meals on specific days. AirDine asks hosts to arrange fixed dinners and, ideally, fill the table with strangers. And BonAppetour and VizEat offer food experiences, like market tours, along with meals.
But all try to make money in the same way: The companies take a percentage of what hosts charge guests to attend, usually 15 to 20 percent. Hosts can set whatever price they like for guests; Ms. Larsson charged $10 a head, while lots of EatWith and Feastly meals run $80 and up. The companies generally do not charge guests or hosts to join the platforms.
Christienne Dobson, a designer in Harlem and an EatWith host, said she saw cooking as a hobby rather than an income stream. “Basically, I’m not spending money to host people — it pays for itself, which is really nice, so I can source better ingredients, source different types of food,” she said.