“Beautiful things happen when you bring people together over food.” said Hila. We all sat at a long table with vases of fresh flowers, Billie Holiday playing in the background, and the room was softly glowing with votive candles. Another perfect foodie night out in New York City. However I wasn’t at the latest Manhattan restaurant – this was an apartment in Brooklyn where I sat at a table with a bunch of strangers having dinner. Hila was indeed our hostess – but she was also our chef, waitress, bus boy, and dishwasher. She ran a one-woman ‘restaurant’ out of her apartment through EatWith.
EatWith is an online website promoting local food experiences much like Aribnb promotes local lodging experiences. It’s the latest in the online crowd-sourced craze – connecting people who have an interest in cooking and entertaining to people who are looking to eat out. Travelers or locals can build connections with their hosts, gain access to distinctive spaces, and immerse themselves in the culture of their destinations. Basically, EatWith (and other similar sights) has strangers dining together in people’s homes as an alternative to a traditional restaurant dining. People who love to cook and throw dinner parties host dinners in their homes for a fee similar to what you would pay if you went out to a restaurant. The hosts and guests can review the experience and people they have met thereby creating a system of checks and balances.
Hila used to be a chef in Italy, but her intense love of food really comes from her childhood. Her best memories are of her family coming together over food. She grew up in Israel and still carries that Middle Eastern culture of ‘visiting over food’ with her today. I enjoyed learning about her varied background and life as a Third Culture Kid. When I asked her about why she decided to start hosting dinners with EatWith she responded, “I love the idea of having dinner parties and getting people to interact in person. I’m more analog. I feel that social media is killing in-person interaction and socializing and I wanted to get back to real interaction.”
Everyone introduced themselves at the table and I was surprised to find out that the table was filled with locals. I was expecting there to be more tourists taking advantage of this unique local experience, however I was the only one! Hila said that based on her experience about 30% of the guests who use EatWith in New York City are tourists, but it changes from city to city. Yes, that’s right, this isn’t just a crazy New York City thing, EatWith has hosts around the world.
Around the table we had 2 men who were there checking it out as they were considering becoming hosts themselves. One worked as a chef at a restaurant and wanted to use EatWith as a way to be more creative with his cooking; an outlet he can’t get at the restaurant he works at in NYC. The other 4 women were friends who were tired of restaurants, and looking for something different. Conversation centered around travel, family heritage, traditions, religion, restaurants, pop culture, how to find apartments in NYC. I walked away with a number of restaurant and activity recommendations in NYC.
Hila listened on to the conversation and participated when she could from the kitchen as she put finishing touches on the food. She came out with platters of food explaining each one as she placed it on the table. Many were her family recipes that had a story attached to them. She served up a mix of Mediterranean food that was exquisite:
• Hummus & Labneh
• Tomato salad with pine nuts
• Burek with baby spinach, roasted butternut squash and honeyed goat cheese
• Marseilles inspired seafood bouillabaisse w/ scallops, shrimp, mussels and sea bass, in a leek, red wine & garlic broth
• Lemon and herb quinoa
• Arugula salad with roasted cauliflower, hazelnuts and truffle oil vinaigrette
• Dark chocolate pot-de-creme w/ coconut milk caramel and spiced pear syrup
I was so in love with the pot-de-crème she even sent me the recipe.
How Can You Use EatWith on Your Next Vacation?
Go to EatWith.com and type in the name of the city you’ll be traveling to. A list of events will come up that are offered by hosts. Read through them and see what appeals to you – they vary wildly from brunch, wine tasting, to dinners. Read the reviews of the hosts and the description to see if you think there is a good fit for you. Read the reviews and make sure you feel comfortable with the host. Then simply sign up and pay the fee. You will get a confirmation and then the host will contact you via the website and provide you more information and directions. Hila was great at getting me excited about the dinner I had signed up for!
If you are a little freaked out by the idea of going to a stranger’s home to eat dinner that’s normal. However each EatWith host goes through a rigorous application process to ensure safety and quality before being added to the site. Wherever you see the “EatWith verified” icon an EatWith team member or trusted representative has personally vetted all aspects of the EatWith experience, namely: host, home and food. But as in any crowdsourcing site, it’s the user ratings and reviews that play a large part in helping potential guests to assess hosts and decide which EatWith experience to try.
Interested in Being a Host?
If you love to meet new people and throw dinner parties, then this may be a great way to satisfy your social foodie needs. Hosts like Hila are in this for the sheer joy of meeting new people from all over the world and NYC, and connecting over food. She believes “The meal is secondary to the social experience, giving guests an opportunity to chat and get to know one another, chilling out in a cozy home environment over a leisurely dinner. Since I work as Creative consultant and Life Coach I was only interested in hosting events sporadically – this way I get to cover my costs for each dinner I prepare and by being smart about overhead costs and planning my menu I manage to make a small profit margin that makes up for a little bit of the time that went into prep.” Some who are hosting numerous events are making more of a profit – but like most things, it helps to go into it know what your goals are – profit or pleasure.
I walked away from the evening with new business cards, ideas on events to attend in NYC, a satisfied appetite, and a new recipe. Hila was right, beautiful things did happen for me that night over food.