Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack here and there. Live is pretty much centred around food. Employee’s go together to the canteen and chit chat about the latest gossip and problems. Friends meet in restaurants, families come together for dinner. The best conversations happen over some good food and drinks, and business agreements and long lasting friendships can have start from sharing a table. There is something about food that unites people.
Why not make a business out of that? Why not bring people together over a nice dinner? Questions like that Reda Stare probably asked herself when she first came up with the idea for PlateCulture. PlateCulture marries people with a passion for cooking with people with a passion for eating and an interest in an Airbnb kind of experience. Originally from Lithuania, Reda started PlateCulture in Malaysia in July and has recently expanded to Thailand.
PlateCulture is a community which invites you to dine in real homes and eat authentic food.
Can you explain how PlateCulture works?
PlateCulture is a community which invites you to dine in real homes and eat authentic food.
We connect two sides. People who love cooking and people who enjoy home-made food. When I say “enjoying home-made food” I mean that the people are not expecting professional chefs, and that we are not looking for professionals. We are looking for people that enjoy cooking at their own premises. People who like to cook some nice recipes they learned from their mother or grandmother.
PlateCulture experience comprises of many things. One side is more social because you are going to meet the host and other guests. On the other side we have a cultural experience. We encourage people to cook authentic cuisine. When I was in Malaysia I was cooking a Lithuanian dinner. When people taste Lithuanian food you eat things you haven’t likely tasted before and as a chef you of course speak about the food you cook, traditions and other related things. You can end up making good friends.
Here in Bangkok we just started, but we have already a woman who cooks Mexican food and she grew up with a Mexican mother. She has a lot of stories about how to make it. People usually just say “oh good food” and then you start sharing recipes, and talk about habits and traditions. You don’t get that when you go to restaurants. In fact, it’s even difficult for you to choose because you don’t know what is good, what is bad or what it even is. If you go to our homemade dinners and you like the food, you can get tips what to try next, where to go for dinner or lunch and so on.
We also have people from Ghana, and we have people that lived all over the world. They tend to bring different cuisines together. Osama is doing Italian-Japanese fusion, and it’s really good. He is doing some Risotto with Japanese curry and salmon. It goes really well. The food is showing people’s personality. Osama is from Saudi-Arabia but he has been living here for more than 10 years. He used to live in Japan for eight years. He works for the UN, so he can talk about really interesting international topics.
In effect all our kitchens bring together, cuisine, culture and unique personalities. We have many more local hosts on our lists.
The process is like this. A person who would like to cook will provide us with the details, but will not show on our website right away. We first go to a dinner where we verify every single house. That is currently a manual thing but there are many ways how to scale it. You need to verify the host every time. It’s a safety issue.
The good thing is that we have a very strong feeling for the product.
How much do the hosts charge?
It depends on hosts, how much they want to charge. We recommend charging 50% based on your shopping expenses and 50% based on time and effort. Eventually you are using your space and electricity and it is nice to have some extra money at the end.
But people don’t see it really like a business. They do it maybe twice a month, because they like to. It depends on the person though, in theory you could do it every day.
You don’t limit the amount of dinners?
No, as long as the quality stays high. We are collecting feedback form guests and hosts after every event. That helps our future guests to decide on the best experience to choose.
We haven’t had any issues on quality in the past but if the quality goes down we definitely approach the hosts and ask what is happening. It might not be nice for the host but we have to protect ourselves. Eventually it is a Plate Culture experience and if the experience is not good, we have to do something about it.
What we see at the moment is that when a person joins a dinner and likes the experience, we get an email from the guest asking for similar experiences. They are asking us, not the dinner host, so we have to make sure the quality is good.
What is your revenue model?
The prices you see on the website already include all cost. As a guest you pay the price to our account and we take the 16,7% and give the rest to the host after the dinner.
How do you process payments?
We use credit cards and PayPal, and can support many currencies of course.
Our original idea was to start in Asia, so we decided to begin with Malaysia.
Does the concept exist already somewhere in Europe or the US?
When we started it there was nothing, no. Our original idea was to start in Asia, so we decided to begin with Malaysia. Of course, when you start doing that you realize that there are similar concepts around. In Asia there are similar concepts. You can for example invite a chef to cook at your place. Those chefs are professionals. In Europe there are similar concepts in France, Italy and there is an Israeli concept. In Europe and in the US there are pop-up restaurants and underground kitchens everywhere, people know and understand the concept. It’s easier to start there. Over here you can’t use those words because nobody has heard of them. Our challenge is that we have to do some education here, but we are confident that it is possible.
You have the best experiences when you go to some local’s house.
How did you come up with the idea?
The inception was about three years ago. I was backpacking through Asia. You have the best experiences when you go to some local’s house. The experience is richer, you see how people actually live and the food tastes different. You can go to as many restaurants as you want but you will never get that feeling. You will never see how a husband communicates with his wife and children. I was in South-India and was invited to one lady’s house. She was cooking traditional food in her yard and she was charging for it. It was nice and I was very happy because I had a very good experience. The food was excellent.
I came back to Europe and worked for several years and then I realized that I should start my own business. In two days I came up with 70 ideas (laughs). I selected five of them, and one of those five was what is now called Plate Culture. Then I looked for a co-founder, Audra, who is now living in Malaysia.
We started the business this year. The current website version was launched on the 3rd of June. At the beginning there was only Malaysia. In August we launched Singapore and we recently launched in Thailand.
I realized that that don’t want to work any more on things I dislike or are not making me happy.
How did you analyze the different ideas in order to eventually pick Plate Culture?
The idea is closest to me. I realized that that don’t want to work any more on things I dislike or are not making me happy. The better ideas were about education things. Originally I did not restrict myself to anything. I asked myself “what are the problems that I see” and for what can I come up with kind of a solution. This one, I felt, was right for me. I felt I can really change something with this idea.
Did you get investment or are you bootstrapping?
We are bootstrapping. Our IT-Team and designers are in Lithuania. The main IT guy is a co-founder as well.
Are you hiring in Bangkok?
Yes we are looking for Ambassadors to help us contact hosts, verify them and take pictures. The other operations are all centralized.
Where do you want to expand next?
We are looking into the Philippines and Vietnam. We have several people that are interested in running it there. We are approached by many people, particularly from Europe. We don’t do that yet, because it takes a lot of energy to start in a country. You have to select wisely. At the beginning it sounds nice “oh you just create a dinner”, but you have to keep it going and that is hard work. On top, we started in Asia and our focus is here. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Germany… What is that?
Thai’s are so open. They are so welcoming, smiling, happy – a very open culture.
What is the most difficult thing you encountered establishing Plate Culture in Thailand?
We are looking for hosts that live in good locations, but if they have really good locations, they live in tiny, tiny spaces. It’s OK if you can host three or four people, but often people don’t have a table or a kitchen.
The rest is similar to Malaysia. At the beginning everybody is saying “Oh no, nobody will open his house.” I won’t say which culture is problematic, but in Thailand it’s not a problem at all. Thai’s are so open. They are so welcoming, smiling, happy – a very open culture.