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Airbnb testing group dinners for strangers

By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Airbnb, a San Francisco startup that has grown into a $10 billion business by letting strangers share their homes for a fee, now wants to do the same for the dinner table.

Airbnb is encouraging hosts to throw dinners for strangers as part of a new pilot program in its home city. The company would take a cut of the proceeds, similar to how it makes money from its core business of letting people list spare bedrooms or homes on its website.

The startup began inviting hosts in San Francisco to participate in the dining pilot on Tuesday. A listing for one of the pilot dinners charged $25 per person for a three-course meal.

Marissa Coughlin, an Airbnb spokeswoman, said the company is "always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences" and declined further comment.

The dining program is an extension of Airbnb's hospitality empire, whose users have booked 10 million rooms in 192 countries on its online marketplace since 2007.

Several startups in recent years have already applied Airbnb's business model to facilitate group dining among strangers, an increasingly trendy activity in urban areas such as San Francisco and New York.

Venture-backed startups like Grouper and Feastly have taken root in major U.S. cities, while more informal pop-ups, such as the "Good People," have flourished via email lists.

Airbnb has reportedly considered entering a broad variety of businesses in the past three years, including ride-sharing, since dominated by companies like Uber and Lyft.

Deciding to stick with services related to the hospitality business, the company recently launched a pilot house-cleaning service in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Airbnb told prospective hosts that they would have the freedom to set the date and price of their meals but warned that the pilot program was still in its early stages.

The company received an investment from TPG Capital in April that valued the company at $10 billion, more than established hotel chains like Hyatt Hotels Corp.

(This story corrects 5th paragraph to reflect 10 million bookings since 2007)

(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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