WelcomeOver founders from left to right: John Welander, Johan Schyberg and Nelson Hidalgo

Start-up, WelcomeOver, launches Australia’s first shared economy for dining

“Alternative consumption methods have satisfied a desire for a combination of lower costs, technology-based access and social interaction.” (NSW Business Chamber, Sharing Economy Issues, Impacts and Regulatory Responses)

A few years ago, you may have grimaced at the thought of sharing a ‘private’ ride with someone you had never previously met. Now, Uber has turned this concept into a legitimate form of transport for city dwellers across the globe – or at least – it’s no longer an outlandish idea to sneer at or be suspicious of, even if you don’t use it. The slow and steady legalisation of the service across Australia is certainly sealing the deal on that score. But as the sharing economy, a concept in its own right, continues to flourish, we should probably expect more social (and sometimes legal) conundrums to fall in our path.

“At a time when Uber was really taking hold in the market in Australia, we thought it would be a great idea to do this for food”

With every intention to ride this wave, entrepreneur Nelson Hidalgo has spent the last three years developing Australia’s first ‘Uber’ of the restaurant scene. Launching in Sydney today, WelcomeOver brings a community driven dinner hosting service where hosts can provide home-cooked meals at their homes for members of the WelcomeOver community. Registered guests will be able to browse events by location, price, area or type of cuisine and view other attendees. Like Uber, WelcomeOver will generate revenue by deducting a 20 per cent commission from the hosts’ advertised charges.

“We’ve seen the sharing economy boom with the likes of Uber and Airbnb, and we think it’s time to challenge the tradition of eating out,” said Nelson.

Nelson says the idea first came to his co-founder, Johan Schyberg, when he discovered a platform in Indonesia that connects locals to foreign travellers looking for authentic cultural activities.

“At a time when Uber was really taking hold in the market in Australia, we thought it would be a great idea to do this for food,” Nelson says.

According to Nelson, he and his two co-founders, Johan and John Welander, chose Australia to launch WelcomeOver because of their perception of Australia as a nation that loves food and new experiences.

“Users can have a homemade meal in a more relaxed environment, but at the same time, you get to meet new people."

Some might describe the service as a ‘disruptor’ of the restaurant scene, but Nelson says that he and his team are not intending to “pick a fight” or make any enemies in this regard. Rather, the motivation behind this business was to create an opportunity for people who love food and who want to share their space.

“Users can have a homemade meal in a more relaxed environment, but at the same time, you get to meet new people – so it’s also a social experience. People will do it more for social interaction,” says Nelson.

“For the hosts, the service might even give them a chance to test their skills before entering the restaurant scene.”

That said, unlike restaurants who have rent and overheads to pay, Nelson concedes that some members will be incentivised by cheaper meal prices.

As with any other shared economy service that escapes the grip of contractual arrangements, regulation and a pervasive management structure; integrity is at stake. Recognising that ‘what works for one, might work for all,’ Nelson reveals that WelcomeOver has adopted the well espoused rating system concept, similar to that used by Airbnb and Uber.

“Hosts rate the guests and the guests rate the hosts in order to maintain the standards and integrity of the service,” says Nelson.

To some, the idea of cooking a meal for ‘unknowns’ in your own home, indeed, may seem outlandish. Now. But while comparable communities in Europe and the US are already fast picking up the pace, the future here should perhaps look similarly promising.

And if there are enough takers out there who love to combine their passion for new tastes with new friends, Nelson says that WelcomeOver will quickly extend its reach to Melbourne’s home-cooked food scene.

Dan Jacobs

Dan Jacobs is the Editor for ShortPress and an experienced business writer across a range of industry sectors.