It's the Internet: Dinner is served

Time for dinner. Please proceed to the home of a total stranger, and bon appetit!

What lets you turn into a culinary Blanche DuBois, depending on the cooking of strangers? It's an emerging concept called meal-sharing, a new variation of the so-called sharing economy.

In the sharing economy, people with a surplus of something -- a spare seat in a car, say, or a bed for the night -- do business directly with others who need to get somewhere or get some sleep. The idea also happens to be spawning a raft of new companies around the world that specialize in brokering these personal commercial arrangements. These include Airbnb and CouchSurfing for lodging, and companies such as Ridejoy and Lyft that let people hitch a ride.

When it comes to the food scene, home chefs can make you meal, often for a modest price. A number of sites matching chefs and diners have sprung up around the world. Mealku offers lunches delivered to offices. One provider -- New York painter Emmanuel Jabur -- offers a few dishes like "chimichurri steak & red cabbage slaw w/ tomato basil & watermelon salad." The site Cookening offers meals in people's homes in a number of different countries, including France, Italy, Spain and England. EatWith also has an international flavor, while Meal Sharing serves up food in 425 cities around the world. By contrast, Feastly focuses on meal options in the U.S.

When it comes to payment, the cook often charges you directly for a meal. Sometimes, the deal involves food swaps.

As with all startups -- especially of course, businesses come and go. Kitchen.ly already seems to have gone under, its domain parked with an Internet Service Provider and not a sign of a website. Another service, HomeDine, left dozens of pictures posted and the headline, "Well ... That Was Fun!" along with an explanation that after "hundreds of meals all over the world we decided to change course."

Then there are the sticky legal questions. For instance, who gets sued if someone falls ill with a nasty case of food poisoning? If meal-sharing becomes popular, will boards of health, to say nothing of local restaurants, give them a pass?

For now, though, feel free to eat and run.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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