One of the things that has always fascinated me about social media and the online world in general, is its ability to bring together communities of interest and connect people with others they have unique and specific things in common with. Such as those who like to eat the same way you do.
Now, vegetarians in Spain are pretty rare, and speaking as a pescetarian myself I know how difficult it is to get a good meal at a lot of places. Of course whilst some cuisines are historically more veggie-friendly than others, there is often a distinct lack of imagination in planning even if there is a ‘veggie option’ – yes, we all like pasta and risotto, but, we eat them a lot at home, and sometimes when we go out for a meal it can be pleasant to try something different.
That’s why I always really enjoy the evenings (and occasional lunches) organised by Montgó Vegetarians, and indeed many non-veggies attend regularly – whether they are partners of vegetarians or vegans, looking to eat less meat in their diet, or just enjoy trying something new and distinctive, prepared by one of the excellent local chefs our local area is fortunately blessed with.
“When we talk to local restaurants”, says founder Cindy Sear, “we know straight away whether it’s going to work, because you can see those who really love food and the craft of cooking and get excited about the challenge. We help them put together a menu with at least 3 choices for every course, including dairy free options, to make delicious and well-rounded meals that everyone can enjoy. It’s a win-win, because we get a great night out with superb veggie food and company, and the restaurants welcome a large group of lots of new foodie customers, usually on a quiet week-night. For them it’s a great chance to show what they can do, for people who enjoy eating out and like to know where they can get creative and imaginative vegetarian food.”
The group uses social media extensively to co-ordinate events with minimum hassle. “Because the restaurants are putting on these dishes especially for us as a one-off, and we are often a large group of between 20 and 30 covers, we usually need to pre-select what we want for each course. We use the Eventbrite booking application, which lets us easily create a short questionnaire where people can decide what they want from the menu, and then it’s easy for us to export that information to send straight to the restaurant”. Eventbrite (http://www.eventbrite.com) is also completely free to use provided you don’t collect payment through the site, and as Montgó Vegetarians works entirely on trust that people will turn up and pay on the night, the booking itself is free.
“We use Mailchimp to send newsletters out each month with details of our forthcoming events and general veggie and local information”, Cindy explains. “It’s easy to create nice-looking newsletters using their service, it’s free at our volume of use, and it automatically manages the list for us as well so people can subscribe and unsubscribe – simple forms on our website (http://www.montgo-vegetarians.com/) make it easy for people to sign-up to receive our messages”.
“We also have a Facebook Page, where a mailing list registration form can also be found, and we know we reach a slightly different audience that way. It’s easy to cross-post the Eventbrite listings to Facebook, and from there we promote the event around local Facebook groups in the towns where they are going to take place, in case people who already know and like the restaurant or are curious to check it out can come along and join us.
“Our Facebook Page, as well as the main website, are also important tools for people visiting the area who want to know about where they can find something to eat or buy essential foods. We have listings and reviews for health food shops, markets, and restaurants where we know people can get good veggie meals without having to negotiate, complain or endlessly explain themselves – the Mediterranean cuisine we have around us has an abundance of fresh produce and choices, and the best places to eat make this accessible for everyone whatever their preference. Our members often use the Facebook Page to share good veggie options or shopping choices they have spotted – an unexpected block of tofu appearing in a small pueblo grocery store for example!”
Eventbrite also has social media integration: once someone has booked to come along on their site, they can share it with their Facebook or Twitter followers with a single click, to encourage people they know to check out the menu and maybe come along too. This is social sharing at its best, and helps the group continually refresh itself – some members are seasonal residents, others come and go, and constantly reaching out to new arrivals and visitors is important.
If you want to find out about forthcoming veggie nights, or if you are a chef who is not scared of a challenge and would like to see some new faces, why not use social media to get in touch with the group? Try https://www.facebook.com/montgovegetarians, or http://www.montgo-vegetarians.com/contact-us.html, and perhaps I will see you at the next event