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Airbnb's dinner-sharing plans are just another example of Silicon Valley's shameless arrogance

Food safety regulations exist for good reasons. But the sharing economy just doesn't care


Andrew Leonard
June 6, 2014 8:35PM (UTC)

Next up on the Silicon Valley disruption hit list: the restaurant industry. Airbnb, reports Reuters, is testing out plans for "dinner-sharing." If all goes well, Airbnb hosts will soon be encouraged to charge their lodgers for meals provided on site.

(How providing meals in return for payment can possibly be considered "sharing" is befuddling, but that horse has left the barn and been beaten to death. Whatever.)

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Funny thing, though. According to Rachel Swan at SF Weekly, the San Francisco Department of Public Health "says it's 'completely illegal' for individual Airbnb hosts to act as commercial food service operators without a permit."

Let's take a moment to review why commercial food service is regulated. The profit incentive motivates restaurateurs to keep costs down. Such costs might include paying people to scrub your kitchen floors, or ensuring that you are always purchasing the highest-quality ingredients. Because, you know, you don't want people getting sick because there are rats in the pantry or because the cut-rate chicken you picked up wholesale is infected with salmonella. Food safety regulations exist for obvious reasons! Airbnb's new program is just one outbreak of food poisoning away from a nasty lawsuit.

So naturally, as Wired's Marcus Wohlsen observes in a thoughtful piece, Airbnb's plans promise "to bring down the same wrath from regulators that its room-sharing service has attracted."

Wohlsen also notes that there will also be plenty of pushback from the restaurant lobby, which is unlikely to be happy about a new "marketplace for unlicensed food service that competes with existing restaurants that have suffered through considerable red tape to get up and running."

But the fact that there will be a huge fight over Airbnb dinner-sharing is not particularly newsworthy. What's amazing is that Airbnb has decided to pick this fight in the first place. Airbnb is already skirmishing with hotel regulators in multiple cities. The company has been a flashpoint of criticism aimed at Silicon Valley's break-things-first, ask-forgiveness-later modus operandi. It has become increasingly clear that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are convinced that the rules simply don't apply to whatever it is that they want to do.

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It's hard to imagine a better example of this than the move into food service. Shamelessly unchastened, Airbnb is picking fights on purpose. Who knew the sharing economy would be such a bully?


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Airbnb Collaborative Consumption Dinner-sharing Sharing Economy Silicon Valley

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