By DOM GALEON
You’ve probably seen it somewhere, in one of those restaurants or cafés you frequent—that little diamond shaped sticker with the words “Let’s Eat Pare” and a drawing of a spoon and fork on it. No, that’s not a random sticker. More than anything, it’s a badge proudly put on display by some of the restaurants in the country.
But Let’s Eat Pare isn’t just limited to restaurants. It’s for anyone who loves food, really. For its founder, Mark Tanseco del Rosario, it’s about giving local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food industry and foodies a community where they can share ideas and support one another. His name might be familiar to many of you. Mark, you see, is a community builder, both on- and offline. He was one of the guys behind the viral Classic Titos and Titas of Manila throwback Facebook group.
But before that, he had already put up Let’s Eat Pare out of a genuine concern to change consumer attitudes. “Coming in the restaurant and you feel like you’re entitled as a customer—the food is not cooked well, I don’t like the taste, then you complain because the customer is always right,” Mark says. “This is what we’re really trying to change. It’s a difficult situation to be in if you’re the business owner. And the hard part there is— this is what I experienced reviewing restaurants, meeting the owners—a lot of their life savings, a lot of time and effort are all hinged or invested in this concept. So if it fails, there go their dreams and aspirations.”
Mark says that he doesn’t discourage people from giving feedback, particularly when there is a reason to do so. But what he doesn’t believe in is what he calls irresponsible posting on social media.
“What I tell people is, if you have a bad experience, go through the right channels—talk to the owner first, talk to the manager. Don’t post it kaagad and say, ‘I’ll never eat here again because of this blah, blah, blah,’” he explains. “And then they post it on communities that are really big. So it’s really meant to damage the reputation of an establishment. Kawawa sila because they’re defenseless. That’s one aspect we’re really trying to correct. If you go into our communities, you’ll never see anything negative.”
Yes, communities. Apart from Let’s Eat Pare, Mark has also started a bunch of other online groups, which now include one about watches, cars, pets, arts, and even one about complaining called Hassle, Pare—it’s a closed group, a safe environment, where people can rant responsibly and with reason about anything life throws at them.
“In the beginning there was a lot of tension. If you’re trying to trailblaze or are trying to shift—to do a paradigm shift—of course there is resistance,” he continues. “But what we saw when we ran the numbers, with the percentages, that’s only one percent of the population. The other 99 percent wanted the change because they’re so sick of seeing negativity on social media. So we’re on the right track. We just have to educate and show them what the benefits of this are. That’s what we’re doing. When we started crediting vendors and restaurants, we created an association. We made them part of a bigger family.”
‘IT WAS SURREAL’
Mark’s background in fast moving consumer goods and supply chain puts him in a good position to help SMEs. Having previously owned a restaurant, he understands the processes involved at the backend, so to speak, of operating one. He knows how suppliers tend to treat SMEs. He also understands how consumers behave. Let’s Eat Pare, in fact, started as an association of SMEs and not as a Facebook page.
“It was a plan in my head,” Mark recounts. “I accredited vendors first, and then they started becoming friends. They would join bazaars together. I also become a friend to these vendors. I would go to their bazaars, I would promote them, and then we would drink after.”
When we started crediting vendors and restaurants, we created an association. We made them part of a bigger family.
It was one of his vendor friends, Buddy Isleta, the founder of Puro TNT (Taba ng Talangka), who suggested a chat group for all of them. “That’s good, I told Buddy,” Mark continues. “My dream really is to create an association for everyone.”
And create an association he did. “In our first meeting, 70 people came. We had it at The Keg, which is owned by my friend and a member of Let’s Eat Pare. We filled up the whole restaurant and I gave them a presentation,” Mark explains. “It was surreal. I never really expected what happened.” Let’s Eat Pare, he explains, holds regular meetings where members get to network with suppliers and bond over drinks. “It’s a break from the stress of running restaurants,” he adds.
It helps that Mark has a way with negotiations and working with people. He fancies himself a “deal closer,” and his idols are Harvey Specter from Suits and Don Draper from Mad Men. Indeed he is one, judging by how many people he has managed to bring together, how many vendors he has connected with one another and with suppliers.
IT’S A PINOY THING
But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Mark envisions a community where local SMEs get the same opportunities bigger players in the food industry have. He dreams of creating a network of farm-to-table restaurants made of smaller players in the business. At present, he has been busy combining the efforts of the different groups he manages. Last February, for example, his food and art communities hosted an outreach program for orphans and street children at the Museo Pambata. “Let’s give them a lesson that they can take with them. Let’s teach them a food business, a simple one that adds value to their lives,” Mark says. “I didn’t want to just feed them for a day and just leave.”
Right now, Let’s Eat Pare has 155,000 members, 80 percent of whom are foodies or consumers, the rest are restaurant owners. There are also Let’s Eat Pare regional communities now in Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, and Davao.
From connecting Filipino food-preneurs to foodies and local suppliers, to promoting dishes and delicacies that are deliciously local, Let’s Eat Pare has become a true hub for Pinoy food. That, Mark says, is reflected even in the community’s name. “If you translate Let’s Eat Pare into Filipino, it’s ‘kain tayo, pare,’” he explains. “Inviting people to eat when you’re eating, that is very Filipino.”