A man on a mission to feed the city’s hungry one voucher at a time
For the last several weeks, Phil Veinott has been giving away stuff to complete strangers on Facebook, from vouchers for free sangrias to complimentary dinners for two. But why the sudden act of philanthropy, you ask?
“Because I want to connect people: food and people, new places and people,” he explains. In November 2014, Phil created Slapdish (www.slapdish.vn; Facebook: goslapdish) to challenge people to try new food and go to new places. “It’s really easy for expats, for people in general to fall into a rut. You tend to stick with the safe choices, eat only what you know is okay, drink only the familiar drinks, and that really doesn’t make sense, especially for an expat because, hey, you are in a completely new place. Why would you want to stick with safe and boring?”
According to Phil, Slapdish, a mashup of the words “slapdash” and “dish”, was created first as an excuse to simply post amazing photos of food on Facebook, but then evolved into a self-challenge to go beyond photo sharing. Slapdish expanded to draw others in on the challenge. “I woke up one day with the idea. What’s a better way to get people to get out of their apartments and try something new than giving the meal away for free? I didn’t know whether it was going to work but I happen to know the people at WoknRoll and they gave me a couple of vouchers for free food at their place. I thought, well let’s try this out, and made a small giveaway post on Facebook expat groups. If it works, it’s fun and free food for me and a couple of people, and decent promotion for WoknRoll. Everybody wins, right?”
His first voucher giveaway post on Facebook, with support from Expats in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Facebook group, stirred such a good response from members that by the fourth week Slapdish had given away VND6 million worth of vouchers, connected with six partners, including Lucky Dog and Emergency Room, and amassed more than 1,000 followers.
“The model is really simple,” Phil explains. “I go to a new restaurant. If they are in, they give me something free or discounted – a meal or a drink – in voucher form. I take these and post a giveaway on Facebook. Members see the giveaway, they apply, get it and go try out the free food. The restaurant or bar is promoted and so they are happy. And I am happy because it means Slapdish just got somebody to try out new things or go to a new place. No money is involved, and though the winners aren’t guaranteed to spend more of their own cash at the place, at the very least they go to check out the place.”
This model requires no money, which means Phil stands to make nothing, but it also means that he doesn’t have to pay out of his own pocket for the average VND1.5 million in vouchers he gives away every week either. “That is precisely why it works so well, because it doesn’t cost anyone anything and because this city is full of these small, indie restaurants and bars who can’t afford a hefty marketing paycheck.
To them, Slapdish is great because it gets people to check out their places for next to nothing.”
Phil has few plans for Slapdish beyond seizing the day (and the deal). “I’m a simple English teacher who just happened to have a great idea. All kinds of organizations have to think about monetizing sooner or later, but I can’t worry about that right now. For now, I just want to enjoy the ride and see where it will take me.”
Images by Ngoc Tran