Social Dining: Hosting Dinner Parties for Strangers for Money  

After moving to New York City from Chicago, Allison Anti wanted to meet new people and establish some roots in her new hometown. So, she attended a private dinner party cooked by chefs in their home -- but she didn’t know a single person there.

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“It was Valentine’s Day, so I was a little nervous, but it sounded like a great experience and it turned out to be this amazing meal and I met people that I still talk to regularly,” she said.

Anti used Cookapp to sign up for the dining experience after running across an ad for it on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). “I figured, why not? It seemed like a less intimidating setting than a one-on-one meeting at a restaurant or going to an event solo.”

Cookapp allows chefs of all levels (or wannabe chefs) to post dinner invitations on its website that includes the menu, price, guest list size and location. Cookapp verifies the featured chefs and locations for safety and skills, and helps promote the events to make sure the event is worth the chefs’ time and effort.

“On our platform, the chefs are the creative ones; they put together a meal of their choice, whether they are testing out a new dish or want to educate about their local cuisine,” says Pedro Rivas, Cookapp's CEO and one of the company’s three co-founders. “We are all about connecting people around the dinner table, enjoying a good meal and creating memories.”

“The sharing economy is going to continue to be accepted as time goes by. There are underutilized assets everywhere and in this case, it’s chef’s skills and the dinner table”

Pedro Rivas, Cookapp CEO

The South American startup launched in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2013 and has more than 50,000 users in the country that have booked 5,000 dinners.  The company entered the U.S. market in February in New York City, and according to Rivas, more than 100 Manhattan-based chefs have shown interest in hosting a dinner party and more than 6,5000 users have signed up.

“The sharing economy is going to continue to be accepted as time goes by. There are underutilized assets everywhere and in this case, it’s chef’s skills and the dinner table,” says Rivas. He says the company is planning to expand to San Francisco this weekend with hopes to eventually spread across the country.

The average cost for dinners in New York is around $60, a substantial increase from the $20-$23 price tag on most meals in Buenos Aires. Who is attending the events in the states is also a little different.

“Of all our reservations, 2.3 people is the average booking. In New York City, the average is 1.5. More people are going alone. After all, it’s a great way to meet people.”

Anti’s first Cookapp dinner party ended early the next morning and included everyone singing as someone played the guitar. She said all the diners exchanged numbers and she’s planned trips with some of the other guests.

“It turned into this really fun party where we all clicked. The experience is a lot more intimate and social than going to a top-notch restaurant, not to mention a lot cheaper,” said the 36-year-old human resource professional.

Rivas, along with co-founders Tomas Bermudez and Magdalena Bermudez, self-financed the company’s initial launch and they have since received a funding round through angel investors in the U.S., Argentina and Mexico.

There is no fee to subscribe to Cookapp, and the company takes an 18% commission from whatever the chef is charging. “That fee includes all the marketing and promotion of the event to make sure it gets filled and we handle all the payments. As soon as you RSVP to an event we take credit card information to make sure you are committed.”

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