Thumb through the Let’s Eat Pare Facebook page during odd hours of the night and chances are, you will want to head out to the nearest open restaurant. There are always photos of juicy beef kebabs and fluffy-looking French toasts to whet your appetite.

Let’s Eat Pare (LEP) encourages every Filipino’s love for good food regardless of price point and location, and in any way possible: Share your latest gastronomic discovery, ask for a recommendation for a hole-in-the-wall, give a shoutout to a quaint coffee shop you discovered, or simply lurk around and bookmark anything that pleases your palate.

What started out as an homage to Filipino hospitality—where “Kain tayo!” or “Let’s eat!” is a greeting that’s meant to make anyone feel welcome as one partakes in a meal—has grown to a strong Facebook community.

Founder Mark Del Rosario shares how the idea first came to him: He was strolling around Bonifacio Global City when he noticed a lot of new restaurants and a few that had closed shop. That was in 2016 when food parks were also beginning to gain popularity. Seeing this surge, Del Rosario realized that something must be done. “There’s some sort of service that should be offered to this industry,” he recalls. Come November of that same year, Facebook saw the birth of LEP.

Rules of the game

Armed with 16 years of experience in the consumer goods industry, and also practical know-how in the restaurant business (he once opened a restaurant), Del Rosario started adding anyone and everyone he could think of: friends, colleagues, people he worked with, and friends of friends. Those new members, in turn, added their own contacts. In a span of just two months, LEP reached 10,000 members.

“We encourage them to help each other kasi it’s a family na, eh. We tell them ‘Do not look at each other as competition. Look at each other as co-creators. Help one another,’” says founder Mark Del Rosario.

Maintaining a social media page is one thing but being on top of an exponentially growing community is another. Soon, feel-good food posts turned into a battleground for competing brands as restaurants began bashing each other. Upon noticing such negativity, Del Rosario immediately thought of putting a stop to it. “Sabi ko, ‘Okay, after one year, ground rules na tayo.’”

No ranting, no scathing comments, no disrespecting members. From the get-go, LEP is clear about what it wants to cultivate: positive exchanges and a platform for food lovers to support each other. These days, when social media has become an accessible venue for misleading news and extreme negativity, imposing such strict rules is necessary. It is therefore understandable why LEP is a closed group, which means membership applications need to be approved by administrators. Vendors also have to go through a simple accreditation process to ensure legitimacy.

More than just foodies

To dismiss LEP as just another one of those fun online foodie communities is a mistake. Since its inception, LEP has become an active association that helps microentrepreneurs and novice restaurateurs find their footing in the industry. It also serves as a readily available marketing platform for businesses that recognize the importance of having online presence.

Take, for instance,Santana’s Hummus, which started out as an idea of owner Steffi Santana. Santana, who joined the group in 2017, came home from a Greek-themed party where she whipped up three flavors of hummus. Encouraged by good feedback from her friends, Santana posted on LEP to share her musings on whether she should sell hummus, and to ask the community for brand name suggestions.

The post went viral and orders came pouring in the following day. “No logo, no price, no anything! I hurriedly made a logo, looked for packaging, chose names, and delivered hummus two days after I posted,” Santana says.

Aside from helping entrepreneurs launch their products, the community is also instrumental in growing established businesses like Daddy Mikks, a brand of crunchy chili garlic. Shares founder and owner Michael Angelo Cordova, “We joined Let’s Eat Pare because we saw the community and the culture. It has the right target market for our product.”

An appetizing advocacy

Cordova takes pride in how positive the community is as it inspires members “through a healthy competitive environment.” Entrepreneurs like him, he says, get the chance to share their best practices for others to emulate. That kind of camaraderie is what LEP is most proud of. “We encourage them to help each other kasi it’s a family na, eh. We tell them ‘Do not look at each other as competition. Look at each other as co-creators. Help one another.’”

Vendors collaborate with other vendors, supplying each other with whatever they need and promoting one another to their respective customer base. Monthly meetings turn into mini bazaars, with members bringing their own products for all attendees to try. Invited resource speakers share their know-how on everything business-related—from growing one’s venture to dealing with government-mandated requirements and regulations.

“We always say we’re more than just an online community,” Del Rosario says. “We are an advocacy that helps SMEs.”

One time, the group went to Pampanga’s Best’s plant to see how the famous local meat brand conducts its operation; the trip gave members something to aspire for. Instead of fierce competition, entrepreneurs in LEP learned the value of collaboration and how it can help them succeed.

To further its advocacy, LEP has branched out beyond Metro Manila. Subcommunities like the Kaon Ta Pare group promotes Negrense cuisine, while Let’s Eat Bai champions Cebuano fare. There’s also the Let’s Eat Pare mobile application, readily downloadable, which gives easy access to a list of restaurants the LEP community recommends (this ties up with the stickers handed out to establishments that get LEP’s approval).

“We always say we’re more than just an online community,” Del Rosario reiterates. “We are an advocacy that helps SMEs.” As LEP fuels Filipinos’ passion for food, it also equips small F&B entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed in this otherwise cut-throat industry—one yummy post at a time.

Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 6