In the last few months, the thought of dining out, even for the fiercest restaurant lovers, can trigger anxiety. But now that restaurants are slowly getting their grip on the new normal, people can finally experience gastronomic bliss as they once did.
It comes as no surprise that there have been so many ongoing conversations about the reopening of restaurants in Manila, especially since not a lot have been able to reopen at all. We caught up with Neo-Filipino bistro, Lampara, to discuss key issues many establishments are wrestling with as they decide what their future will be and what the new normal means to Manila’s food culture.
Shedding light to traditional Filipino dishes, Lampara stands out among thousands of restaurants in the country. Housed on the 2nd floor of an apartment complex in Poblacion, dining at this bistro feels like visiting your cool Tito’s house to eat your favorite comfort food with a Neo-Filipino flare.
“We were inspired by the movement of the Filipino food scene in the world and in our own country. We wanted to combine different techniques and culture, but definitely still focus on what makes it Filipino.”
Left: Alphonse Sotero and RJ Ramos of “neo-Filipino” restaurant, Lampara
Photo Credits: Sonny Thakur
“We opened on December 18, 2018. We were inspired by the movement of the Filipino food scene in the world and in our own country. We wanted to combine different techniques and culture, but definitely still focus on what makes it Filipino– an example would be the Duck dish, which is adobo and duck l’orange inspired,” shared Lampara.
The theme of Lampara may not be new. In fact, countless restaurants have notoriously tried to ride on the hype of bringing a contemporary twist to traditional dishes. However, it’s clear that what drives Lampara’s innovation is not just the sake of creating something new. Instead, it’s honoring the past and showing a thorough understanding that today’s tastes call for a new take on old favorites. While having a plate or two at Lampara, customers will be surprised at how easy it will be to draw parallels between honoring the heritage of regional dishes, and drawing out something new from it.
How the Pandemic Reshaped Manila’s Restaurant Landscape
Perhaps the first lesson for restaurateurs is to adapt. Waiting out the pandemic is not an option, especially if it risks putting people out of a job. The faster owners shift their strategies, the faster they will recover.
“We used the Lite by Lampara platform for the weekly meal plan. Originally Lite by Lampara was supposed to be a bespoke meal plan that is calorie counted focused, but instead, we launched it with the meal options that cut across a range of different cuisine types.”
Right: Toasted Rice Tres Leches
Photo credits to Sonny Thakur
Lampara’s weekly meal plan, which costs Php 2,400 for 10 meals, is a treat to any foodie. Dishes such as Binagoongan, Palabok, and Chicken Pyanggang are enough to trigger memories of visiting relatives in the province and feasting on delicious meals.
“The meal plan, we did the numbers and saw our target and thought of a way to reach it. We needed to act fast, we had to decide fast or we will not survive. The difficult part was going to business without any clear guidance or guidelines, we were traversing blindly in the beginning, but we really just had to jump in, sink or swim.”
Even in the best of times, operating restaurants is not a walk in the park. The pandemic left establishments with no choice but to modify their operations based on the government’s new policies.
“Just like the others, we were not allowed to do dine-in service during ECQ which prompted us to immediately change our business model to delivery.”
Left: Lampara, a “neo-Filipino” restaurant
Photo credits: Rei Gil Medestomas
Bringing Comfort to People Through Food
Not many people realize that nostalgic and familiar elements are key components in a food’s ability to boost your mood. It turns out, you don’t need sunshine on a rainy day. You just need Lampara.
“During the lockdown, we were able to come up with this recipe. The flavors of the KULMA has the right level of heat and sweetness, which embraces you and gives you that warm feeling.”
Left: Kulma, a traditional Tausug beef curry
Photo credits to Sonny Thakur
Kulma is a traditional Tausug beef curry.
The Future of Manila’s Food Scene
Despite the worries restaurant owners are facing today, one thing is for certain: The industry as we have known it may never return to the old normal. For instance, the profitability and effectiveness of delivery was once questioned, but now, it’s a permanent part of the food landscape.
“Prior to the pandemic, restaurants like ours do not give as much attention to delivery service. In turn, this opened our eyes to another aspect of our business that should be a contingency in case normal operations are not applicable. That being said, restaurants should be prepared for their online presence and logistics for a pivot in their existing business model to cushion the possible loss of potential income, and at the same time be able to sustain their employees and the business itself.”
The new normal’s market is going to be defined by convenience for the consumers. It is one where delivery, safety, and multichannel choices will be the baseline.
The pandemic has not only affected indoor dining, it also forced people to cut back on eating out due to financial constraints. This means that even if restaurants are open at limited capacity, not all customers are willing to swipe their cards at the same rate as before.
“The challenge was looking for dine-in customers to actually try our new dishes, but of course, we cannot force our customers to eat in our restaurant.”
But for those who want to dine at the restaurant, Lampara ensures the safety of diners and their team through contactless temperature checks, tech solutions for payments, reservations, and orders, modified seating arrangements, and frequent disinfection of surfaces.
Fortunately, the restaurant industry in the Philippines has an undeniable sense of solidarity. Despite the tough competition, the deeply-ingrained culture of helping each other out has not withered. This time, establishments are working together to assure people that they can still have a safe, enjoyable, and relaxing dining experience.
“We are confident that it will bounce back, it may take time, and we also hope that the enhanced safety procedures that were made during this pandemic will still be practiced or adapted in the future. But definitely dining in is here to stay.”
COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to remake the restaurant industry to become more resilient and creative. The only chance to keep restaurants afloat solely relies on the quality of the food they offer, not the quality of their backers. Thankfully, Lampara’s light stays bright, albeit most of it is now coming from a UV device.
Words by : MJ De Castro
Edited by: Kristine Rioflorido