Supper clubs and pop-up restaurants have been knocking around in London for years now. However, with their recent (and highly controversial) boom in Paris, the shared economy dining scene has got itself organised and is crossing the channel, heading to a table near you.
Doing what Uber has done for taxis and what Couchsurfing, and later Airbnb, did for accommodation, Vizeat looks likely to become the giant in the coming “meal sharing revolution” currently taking the continent (and particularly Paris) by storm.
After a few years of floundering around wondering what we were going to do with it, it seems the Internet is finally changing the way we do things.
Vizeat is not alone either. With sites like mealsharing.com, shareyourmeal.net, KitchenSurfing, Cookening (now acquired by Vizeat), Feastly, Cookapp, EatWith and more, all competing for this new market, it has never been easier to be a home chef – especially with the added availability of rent-on-demand home catering supplies from the likes of Tudor Catering.
The reasons behind the popularity of the so-called shared dining economy are obvious: more choice and lower prices for consumers, as well as lower overheads for chefs. In a world where most people can’t afford a business property, it opens up the dining scene to a whole new demographic who were previously unable to get their name out there, despite their talent.
In short, it’s progress.
While the restauranteurs of Paris (and other cities) are up in arms about it, you simply can’t fight the future. Quite frankly the state of the Paris restaurant scene has been obscenely overpriced and in need for a good kick up the arse like this for decades.
This new phase of shared dining is based on the same principal of sharing that goes on in developing countries all around the world. Once, finding myself in a small Cambodian village where nothing was open, I was directed through an open door into a family’s living room and served a hearty meal. People will unofficially open their dining rooms to neighbours and passers-by, either for a small chip-in or in the understanding that the favour would be returned at some point in the near future.
In fact, isn’t this the very ethic upon which the whole idea of the “restaurant” is based? That it is more economical if one person (who’s good at it) does the cooking?
Obviously the issues that established restauranteurs have raised about health and safety, qualifications and licenses are valid and will need to be addressed pretty soon down the line. If people are going to start making a profit from preparing and serving food in then they are running a business and ought to be subject to the same or a similar set of rules (which we must trust are there for a reason).
My main criticism as a consumer though (because who really cares about rules and regulations when food is on the agenda) is the terminology. They’re hardly “secret” or “underground” restaurants if they’re quite plainly advertised online, and it’s not “meal sharing” when you’re paying in excess of £25 a head. Some shared economy dining sites are calling it a “chip-in”, while others are using the term “donation”, but the reality of the matter is that people are making a nice profit from their “hobby”.
At present, we (at least in the UK) are very much paying for the novelty of being part of “the meal-sharing revolution” “before it was cool” (if we can still get away with saying that after the BBC and pretty much every major newspaper in the UK has run at least one article on the subject) and there are still plenty of cheaper ways to get a good feed.
A real “meal sharing” concept should work more like Couchsurfing than like AirBnB – perhaps for every person you host you could earn a credit to eat elsewhere. It will be interesting to see, as the concept gains in popularity and normalcy, whether the novelty wears off and we see a greater range of cuisine catering to a greater range of budgets; whether shared economy dining develops a competitive nature of its own; and whether any real stars are discovered in their own basements.
One thing is for sure: meal sharing connects people. If you’re moving to Paris, or simply on an extended holiday in Rome, you would be hard pressed to find a better way to meet new people – locals and fellow travellers alike.
This new cultural revolution has already taken root in London, and looks set to take off in cities like Brighton and Hove, with “hidden” restaurants even popping up in and around the villages and small towns of my native Sussex.