Airbnb, the company that allows people to rent out their homes over the Internet, first grabbed market share away from hoteliers and bed-and-breakfast owners. Now it’s setting its sights on another group: restaurant owners.
In a pilot program launched last week, Airbnb is encouraging San Francisco home owners to host dinner parties and charge attendees a fee, according to Reuters. Airbnb then takes a cut of the bill, as it does with private home rentals.
One of the first listings in the pilot advertised a three-course meal for $25 per person. Marissa Coughlin, a company spokeswoman, declined to comment to Reuters on the pilot but said the company is “always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences."
Airbnb is joining a small, but growing crop of startups trying to create online marketplaces and new profit-making opportunities for home cooks. Feastly is a dinner-party organizing site that launched in New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco last summer, while Munchery and Gobble offer chef-prepared meals delivered to the home.
But Airbnb's foray into the home-cooked culinary world is likely to cause much more of an uproar.
Many B&B owners and hoteliers have claimed that Airbnb has hurt their profits—even putting some out of business—because it undercuts their prices and because private owners who rent out their homes or rooms through the site don’t have to pay taxes, get business licenses or adhere to other local regulations.
In New Orleans, for example, many bed-and-breakfast owners say their profits have fallen significantly due to private home owners advertising short-term rentals on Airbnb—even though it’s technically illegal to do so. “Within a half block of me, in any direction, there's a total of 14 illegal B&Bs," Matt Easley, owner of A Creole Cottage, recently told WWL-TV.
Backlash from B&B and hotel owners has caused many cities to enforce stricter rules on private rental owners, and Airbnb recently said it would start collecting and paying taxes in a few cities, including New York, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco.
If the company’s attempt to grow its dinner party business takes off, it’s likely that similar concerns about how it affects local restaurants—and the unfair advantages it has—will become a bigger deal.
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