Authorities in the Canadian province of Alberta shut down a business this week that should have had restaurateurs hyperventilating. It was the latest sign that a significant new threat to the business is arising, stoked by the social impact and financial success of Uber and Airbnb.
An internet-based service was matching consumers who didn’t want to cook for themselves with fellow consumers who were happy to play chef and crank out a meal in their kitchens—for a price, of course. Cut out of that setup are restaurants. Ditto for health inspectors who guarantee the safety of commercial kitchens, which is why the business, Scarf, was shut down.
The development could be dismissed as a one-and-done situation if it weren’t for earlier news stories, including ones that ran on RestaurantBusinessOnline.com.
In California, a woman is being tried for selling ceviche via Facebook. A page on the social media site was serving as a forum where amateur cooks could sell their specialties to consumers who didn’t want to pay restaurant or supermarket prices for ready-to-eat foods. Authorities swooped in, offering to drop charges of operating illegal kitchens in exchange for a $235 fine, one year’s probation and 40 hours of community service. The ceviche specialist opted to stand trial, where she could get jail time if convicted.
As we’ve reported, a New York City venture called Umi is using an app to bring citizen cooks and adventurous consumers together, directly paralleling how Uber and Airbnb function. The service is backed in part by Danny Meyer (one of the co-founders is his daughter) and the founders of SweetGreen.