Craving for some Chinese today? Or some fast food? Be it whichever cuisine you’re craving, chances are there’s someone posting about it on a Facebook group. Many may not take these forums seriously but the truth is that most of us keep going back to these pages when in doubt. Foodies R Us is one such Facebook-based forum that seems to be gaining ground in Lahore for posting information on the city’s growing dining scene and organizing what they refer to as ‘food mobs’. The moderator of the group, Asad Sheikh, shares the story of his group.
Sheikh has held numerous food mobs at a number of restaurants in Lahore, including Khan Baba, Buzkash, Andaaz, Covo, Opium Thai, Sakura, L’auberge, Zouk and Arcadian. “I still remember the first food mob we had at Khan Baba when the group had a 1,000 people,” he says. “I negotiated a rate with the restaurant and only about 35 people showed up, but that didn’t put me off and I wanted to keep trying,” he adds.
The moderator shares how initially, he would take word-of-mouth confirmations but a lot of people would back off the last minute, so he decided the best way to go about it is to take money in advance. “I’d carry money on me in case I’d have to pay myself,” he states, clarifying that he makes no form of income from organizing these food mobs and that it’s purely for the love of food. “The group was initially called ‘Lahore Food Forum’, but I had a problem with that because it suggested that we’re only local. If I were to run a group, it has to have members from all over the world.”
Sheikh says he’s careful about who all he accepts to the group because he prefers interactive members over passive onlookers to discussions. He understands that members and moderators of other groups on Facebook might see him as controversial, especially since the advent of these food mobs. “If I’m providing people with a menu of Rs4, 000 in Rs1, 500, what could be more controversial than that?” He negotiates the menu for each restaurant in advance and works out courses with owners but the price always remains Rs1, 500.
“Mobs have now become more thematic. We organised a food mob where we had a Basant-themed brunch that made everyone nostalgic. Everything was yellow and there were street food stalls, gannay ka russand other such things with 25 items on the menu. Hassaan Aleem, a regular at these food mobs, says, “The eating-out experience is different because we get to try everything on the menu and it’s become a social event.”
Ibrahim Khan, one of the owners at Buzkash, a new eatery in Lahore, shares, “We contacted Asad sahab and floated the idea of bringing the food mob to our restaurant because Foodies R us is a very active group. We thought our restaurant would get an introduction.” Nadeem Chaudhry, EAM of Food and Beverages at a hotel, agrees that food mobs are a great way of familiarizing people with restaurants. “People who attend food mobs know and understand food so the reviews they write after this help us get recognized locally and internationally.”
Restaurants get free publicity so pricing is not a huge factor for restaurateurs to consider when they hold a food mob, especially since it’s a one- or two-day event. “Pricing isn’t an issue because we get free media coverage so we balance our menus out accordingly,” Chaudhry shares. Khan of Buzkash adds, “Prices are such that we make almost no profits but that doesn’t matter because we get free publicity.”
Social media can change views on food in minutes where if one reads a positive review on these forums, they’ll be more inclined to give it a shot and vice-versa. These restaurants invite a number of food enthusiasts who are active on various food forums, so it can easily go awry for them. “We understand that these people have a voice but, as a restaurant, we have to be ready for criticism,” states Khan.