In case you haven’t heard, we’re living in the sharing economy. From rides, to apartments, to office space, to clothes, we’re sharing anything and everything. But while you’re probably pretty comfortable jumping into an Uber or booking a room on Airbnb, would you be willing to eat dinner at a complete stranger’s house? Or, better yet, invite a stranger to your home for a meal?

That’s the idea behind Meal Sharing, a less than two-year-old Chicago startup that’s bringing dining to the sharing economy. Launched in 2013 out of the Impact Engine, Meal Sharing has served over 10,000 meals through its platform, founder Jay Savsani said. Meal Sharing has facilitated meals in 450 cities across the world, with particularly strong followings in Chicago, Berlin and Madrid.

Meal Sharing works like this: Hosts set up a profile, describe what they’re making, set a price, and indicate the day and time they’re available. Guests find a host they are interested in and send a request for that meal. If the host accepts, the two parties enjoy a meal together, with Meal Sharing taking a 10% cut.

Savsani admitted that most people are nervous to host and attend their first meal share, but just like getting over the fear of renting someone’s apartment or riding in someone’s car, users quickly warm to the experience.

“I think it’s natural with a meal sharing platform for you to get a little nervous,” Savsani said. “You don’t know who’s going. There’s a social risk. But then I see the lightbulb go off in people.

“I go to a lot of meals. People have an understandable fear. But once they go, it’s great. They’re going to meals all the time.”

One of the more frequent Chicago meal sharers is South Side resident Bob Leitelt, who says he’s gone to over 100 meal shares since the startup launched. He’s been to meals with as many as 50 guests, and an intimate as a 1-on-1 dinner. He’s done a meal share on a boat, and while traveling through California. Once, Leitelt even helped a couple he met through Meal Sharing move out of their apartment after it flooded.

“They felt comfortable enough to ask me because we were more than just people who had eaten together a few times,” Leitelt said in an email. “Meal Sharing has introduced me to people from all walks of life and different backgrounds that I probably would not have met otherwise.”

Leitelt said that once the awkwardness of meeting a stranger fades, sharing a meal with someone new is a tremendously rewarding experience.

“Put aside your fears of meeting strangers, and enrich your life through the experience of sharing a meal with someone you don’t yet know,” he advises people who are wary of Meal Sharing. “Because once you break bread with a stranger, they are no longer a stranger, are they?”

Savsani said he’s seen attitudes towards the sharing economy change over time, and people are getting more conformable with the idea of sharing different aspects of their lives.

“Look at Uber Pool in San Francisco, where now it’s not just one person and a ride, it’s one person and they pick someone up along the way,” Savsani said. “People are going through that experience and 3,6,8 months down the road that awkwardness starts to dissipate.”

Chicago has been a particularly good place to launch Meal Sharing, Savsani said, both because of the city’s rich food scene and a Midwestern hospitality that’s more accepting of strangers than cities on the coasts. And it’s those like Leitelt who are using Meal Sharing three and four times a week, and building meaningful relationships from it, that has Savsani excited for Meal Sharing’s future.

“People are turning to Meal Sharing every day, every other day,” he said. “The meal is a conduit to deeper, more meaningful relationship.”

Courtesy of Meal Sharing via Facebook