Competition in business is a serious thing. When an established organization loses customers (and money) to the new guy doing the new thing, it's cause for concern, especially if the new guy is doing something better or more innovative. What it shouldn't be is a reason to try to get the government to shut down the new business. It's petty, and it might just serve as free advertising for the competition.
In Paris, restaurants fear they might be put out of business by home chefs who are creating a culture of "shared economy" dining by preparing restaurant-quality meals in their homes and charging others to come and dine, according to BBC News. The restaurants are taking their fears to the government and requesting that it squash the competition for them.
Paris is one of the world's dining capitals, and visitors understandably want to experience a genuine culinary experience. In the past, the only option for someone with no connections in Paris was to go to a restaurant. But now, websites like VizEat allow diners around the world to share a meal in a private home wherever they may be. If you search Paris on the website, you'll find dozens of home chefs offering to cook for you in their homes. For example, on VizEat, you can find a woman in her 60s (who enjoys cooking, literature and flea markets) who will serve you dinner with wine in her garden in Paris for about $50 a person. That seems just as genuine a Parisian culinary experience as going to a restaurant, doesn't it?
But could these home meals really pose a threat to the Paris restaurant industry? The Paris restaurateurs' union Synhorcat believes they could based on what they've seen happen with other sectors. In response to the increase in private rentals on Airbnb, small- and medium-sized hotels have been forced to drop prices. The conflict between French taxi drivers and Uber made national headlines earlier this year.
French restaurant owners are asking the government to do something about these underground eateries, which restaurant owners say are illegal, irresponsible and a threat to their businesses. The illegal part (not paying taxes) and irresponsible part (are home chefs following food safety standards?), I understand. The Parisian powers-that-be that regulate dining need to decide if this is a reason to look at these home dining experiences and create regulations as needed. But asking the government to step in because these home-cooked meals may threaten the restaurant business? That's just whining. The whining is putting a spotlight on these alternative dining options and introducing some diners to venues they didn't know were available — in essence, giving the home cooks free advertising.
VizEat is growing
These underground restaurants aren't just popping up in Paris. Search for New York City in VizEat, and you'll find people offering meals in their homes, luring the city's diners away from traditional restaurants. ReasonTV took a look at the underground dining scene in NYC last year and raised the question of government regulation of what it says are essentially home dinner parties.
Of course, diners should have concerns when going to a stranger's house for a meal. Safety is the first issue, but cleanliness, food allergies and food safety are also concerns. If those issues are addressed, I think these underground restaurants — where chefs get to cook whatever they want, diners get a personalized meal, and travelers get an experience in a city that wasn't available until recently — are a great idea. Do I want to dine in the garden of a Parisian who has cooked a meal and chosen a favorite wine for me? Absolutely.
I've never understood why any industry would ask the government to not allow a competitor to compete. Let me rephrase that. I understand why they do it; they want an easy solution to competition. But I don't understand why they think it should be allowed. Yes, it's frustrating for someone who has built a business to see their business in jeopardy, but that's not a valid reason to ask the government to shut down the competition. Perhaps there's room for government regulation, but government shutdown? No. There's also room for the threatened business to look at its own practices and consider why customers are choosing to go elsewhere. Perhaps it needs some innovation too.
I like variety. I love to go to restaurants, but if I feel safe going to someone's home for an underground-type meal, I want that option. I don't want my options to be taken away here in the States when it comes to dining just because someone wants to squash the competition through unfair means.