By Ariel Schwartz
Moving to a new city can be lonely, especially if you don't know anyone. In some ways, the Internet has made the situation worse: When you do find a kindred spirit, there's a reasonable chance that they'll flake out via text message.
But in some ways, the Internet has made it easier than ever to meet new people--"sharing economy" services like Airbnb, Lyft, and Sidecar make getting in touch with potential friends as easy as clicking a button. SupperKing, a new app that calls itself a "social Swiss army knife," wants to help people fill that void of loneliness with dinner parties.
The startup is the first to "enable the peer to peer in-home dining experience," according to founder Kai Stubbe, who first came to the U.S. nearly four years ago. " I didn't know people and I was wishing for a platform to sit at a local table and get some local insight and news," he says. After reading an article about collaborative consumption, he envisioned SupperKing: an app that lets gregarious hosts put on dinner parties for complete strangers.
It is, Stubbe believes, a more palatable option for meeting people than home-sharing service Airbnb. "I would prefer someone sitting at my dinner table than having a stranger in my bed," he says.
For each meal listed, the app lets hosts set up a description, date, time, location, cost per seat, and number of seats available. Diners can search for tables by price, neighborhood, and type of food. Payment is integrated into the service, and SupperKing takes a 10% commission. In the future, the app will add a photo-uploading feature, and by Easter of next year, hosts will have the option to livestream their events so that other app users can check out the dinners that they're missing.
Like many a sharing service before it, SupperKing has a system where hosts can rate diners and vice versa. Once it gains critical mass, Stubbe wants to add in an insurance system for hosts, a la Airbnb and almost every carsharing service out there.
The app, which launched today in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, is one of a handful of services aiming to capture the market of people looking to share meals. Grubwithus brings together groups of like-minded strangers to eat at restaurants, Kitchit lets people easily hire professional chefs to come to their homes, and Feastly lets cooks--including professional chefs--invite diners into their homes.
SupperKing is most like Feastly (in fact, I had some difficulty discerning the difference), but Stubbe stresses that the services have separate goals. "SupperKing is more community-based, and friends invite friends. You don't have to be a chef to be on SupperKing. It's more about the community than about making money at the end of the day," he says.
When I checked out the alpha version of SupperKing's app, there was a dearth of options. But Stubbe says that the startup's team will seed its launch cities with events. As with any service of this kind, there is a chicken and egg problem--if there aren't good meals available, people won't join, and hosts won't think it's worth it to post events.
Before speaking to Stubbe, I happened to stumble upon a New York Times article lamenting the death of the dinner party in New York City. The article complains: "Increasingly, such gatherings seem outmoded, squeezed out by overcrowded schedules, the phony urgency of affinity sites, restaurants cultism and overall tectonic shifts in how New Yorkers congregate."
But Stubbe disagrees. "I feel like it's going in the opposite direction," he says. "People have less money right now and prefer to stay at home."
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.