What If Your Phone Could Cook You Dinner?

A company called “Kitchensurfing” wants to be Uber for your dinner table. However, instead of allowing you to request a private driver, their app based service allows you to request a private chef.

But does Kitchensurfing just continue to erode human interaction and relationship building? Does this app further the decline of doing things for ourselves? Does it continue to strengthen an entitlement culture?

Perhaps. However, if we look below the surface, services like this actually harnesses the power of technology to promote human interaction, and dare I say neighborliness.

How does it do this?

First, app based services make the human interaction part of commerce feel less transactional. The classic way of participating in commerce involves transactions. I go to a store, grab an item off the shelf, take it to an employee at a register, the employee scans the item and tells me how much to pay. I then complete the transaction by paying for the item. This process has been completely transformed by service based apps.

Kitchensurfing, like Uber, runs much of the transaction through the app. Once you’ve selected your meal, date, and time, you authorize payment, which includes gratuity. This makes the person to person interactions that much less transactional, making you feel like a barrier is removed. Both parties are now less concerned about payment at the end of the service experience, changing the nature of the interaction, making it more likely to be a more relational one.

For an example of this, let’s go back to Uber. Unlike using a taxi or shuttle service, Uber has made the experience of getting a ride somewhere feel more shared and communal. I’ve used the service a couple of dozen times, at first when it was just black sedan service, where a well dressed driver in a Lincoln Towncar pulled up, opened the back door for me and then drove me to my destination, usually without much conversation. Then Uber truly disrupted things when they made it possible for anyone with a car and a clean background to become a driver. This has made the service more affordable, but also less consistent. I may get a very friendly clean cut driver with a detailed Civic, a guy who hasn’t bathed in a few days with a Ford Focus on its last legs, or anything in between. For the most part, though, I’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences, and more often than not, I strike up a meaningful conversation with the driver. We talk about the city we’re in, family, and more. It feels like I’m getting a ride from a friend or neighbor when I use Uber. This is what I believe Kitchensurfing and other service apps also offer as their most important benefits to humanity. It helps us see people who provide us with a service less like robots and more like humans.

Imagine what that would be like to invite someone into your home to cook a meal for you and then build a relationship with them, or at least have an interesting conversation with them? Not everyone thinks that’s great and may even find it creepy, though. Like many do with Uber drivers, chefs/clients could also keep the interaction professionally, and mostly ignore one another. That’s okay, too.

Also, as services like these grow they create a bigger demand for service providers, like personal chefs. How many home cooks will have a greater opportunity now to move from cooking being a hobby that they love to a profession they love? You help create that when you use the service. These are transactions that go beyond currency.

I think Kitchensurfing also offers another benefit to relationship building, not just with strangers, but with those closest to us. Our family is terrible about eating at the dinner table together. We’ve usually had long days followed by one or both of us having some sort of evening meeting and/or at least one of the children has some sort of evening program or practice. The nights we don’t eat out or grab something to go we’re too exhausted to fully lean into the dinner experience. It’s enough to get something cooked, get it on a plate, then eat it, usually not together. Family member scatters throughout the house clearing a spot at the table, sitting on the couch or putting their plate down anywhere there isn’t clutter. If we’re lucky one of us will have the energy to do the dishes that night or else it will wait until morning.

What Kitchensurfing offers is not just the greater possibility of being able to come home and enjoy a healthy home cooked meal as a family, friends, and neighbors, but to actually build relationships with them.

The major reason I like to dine out is because of how great the local/neighborhood/non-chain restaurant experience is, these days. Not only are these restaurants interesting and have great food, but they help me connect with my friends and family. A restaurant with great ambiance and a communal vibe is a place where I’m guaranteed to share a meal face to face with the people I care about, free from distraction (so long as we all agree not to stare at our phones the whole time). Kitchensurfing allows this to happen at home.

I’m not a spokesperson for Kitchensurfing, and many of these benefits are obvious and are touted on their website. However, they are a great example of how the sharing economy is taking us to a better place, even if it isn’t a new one.

Yes, I agree there was a simpler time where preparing dinner together, enjoying it around a table together, and then cleaning up together was a thing and still could/should be. However, it was not technology that ruined this experience— it was convenience — fast food and casual chain restaurant dining.

Today, service apps are also about convenience, however, convenience used to be a way to save time in order to increase productivity. Sure, it’s till about that, but now convenience is becoming more and more about creating relationships and experiences.

Indeed, technology is not making us more isolated, it is drawing us closer together, making human interaction more interesting.