It’s just after 7 o’clock on an unusually warm November evening in San Francisco. Tania Wong is shuffling between her kitchen and her backyard—a couple of flights below—where two tables are arranged beneath glowing strands of light. Paper lanterns suspended from tree branches gently sway, adding to the enchanting ambience.
Tania appears to have considered every detail to make her guests—about 20 strangers from all over the world—feel right at home. Next to each place setting is a dark chocolate bar by local maker Ghirardelli; a heat lamp is on standby in case the temperature drops; and bowls of plantain chips hint at the Puerto Rican feast (catered by Sol Food in Marin County) that is to come.
As part of the festivities during the Airbnb Open 2014, Tania is one of many employees who volunteered to host a dinner for conference attendees. “I work in accounting, so I’m more behind the scenes—in the background,” says Tania. “I don’t usually get to interface with Airbnb hosts, and this is a way for me to do that. It’s always nice to hear their stories—they reaffirm why I’m working at Airbnb.”
Maura Jeffery, who also works in accounting, is pitching in as well. If she wasn’t eight months pregnant, she explains, she would have opened up her home tonight.
While most of the guests live in the U.S., others are visiting from as far as Australia and Brazil. Cara arrives with a bottle of wine in hand—“I’m from Napa, so I kind of have to,” she quips. There are enough similarities and differences among the assembled group to make for hours of lively and interesting conversation.
Fred, from Sonoma County, started the day speaking at the Open’s welcome session. Now he’s ending it by relaxing and mingling with his fellow Airbnb hosts.
Shoo, a musher for years, traveled to San Francisco from Alaska with Nellie, the last of her sled dogs. A California native who is now retired, Shoo is planning to spend the next five months in the Golden State “thawing out,” as she puts it.
Husband-and-wife Chris and Karen drove up from the Palm Springs area for the Open. Louie, from Berkeley, is attending the Open with his girlfriend—but she is at a different dinner. They both list their apartments on Airbnb, and have a good system worked out: When one of their homes has a guest in it, they hang out at the other’s place.
Santa Monica-based Dawn used Airbnb to book stays for several years before she started listing her own converted garage. She had spruced up the space for her visiting parents, and then thought, Now what? She convinced her husband that they should put it on Airbnb, and ever since, it’s been constantly reserved. “It’s a cliché,” she says, “but it restores your faith in the human race. People are really nice, very considerate. Mostly, we all want the same things: We want safety, we want to laugh, we want good food, we want community.”
Following a delicious meal comprised of salad, chicken, vegetarian lasagna, and fried plantains, somehow, there’s still room for dessert. A fire pit not only provides warmth and another reason to gather ’round, but a way to whip up some s’mores, too.
And it turns out, Tania’s hosting prowess extends beyond dinner parties: She and her roommates have also welcomed Airbnb guests into their apartment, including folks hailing from Spain and Denmark. No matter the length of the stay, they have a tradition: The roommates take the out-of-towner to dinner to get better acquainted.
“Even if I can’t travel to other countries,” observes Tania, “it’s like having the world come to me.”