Several remote-looking, curious faces turn toward one entering a friendly-atmosphere restaurant. Hints of smiles and greetings begin to fill the room and conversations soon blossom, as if all have long been acquainted with each other; another Zipbob gathering has begun.
Zipbob is a social dining group that encourages individuals to interact by eating together. One of the group’s special characteristics is that the participants are not constrained by geography, age, or background differences, but rather gather solely based on similar interests.
This kind of social service originated from Western countries, such as the United States and those in Europe.
It then pioneered its way through Korea, attempting to disperse and ultimately embed such culture in the peninsula.
“‘Healing’ has recently become a popular trend in Korea,”said Park Lynn, the founder of Zipbob. “Zipbob will function as an effective, therapeutic means for individuals to relieve stress through communication, a lacking but desperately needed activity in modern society.”
Zipbob, a Korean term that refers to meals served at home, started operating in May 2012 and has since been gaining a considerable recognition and popularity.
Merely eight months after its first initiation, it has held over 100 gatherings, with the number of participants consistently increasing by 10 to 20 percent every month.
As Zipbob functions primarily to bring active interactions through more open and freer means, it neither has any restrictions on individuals upon participating in events nor requires a complicated registering process.
Anyone who desires to build new relationships may participate simply by registering online through its homepage (http://www.zipbob.net/).
The only financial burden the participants face is the cost of meal they eat at gatherings. After choosing an event to attend to, all he or she needs to do is to click the “participate” button. After registration, Zipbob administrators send the specific location of the meeting, appointed hour, as well as the host’s contact number a day prior to the gathering.
Acknowledging the valuable opportunities Zipbob provides, those who have attended Zipbob meetings continue to actively participate and utilize the gatherings to the fullest. In fact, many even go beyond the role as participants and become hosts, initiating new event gatherings under desired themes.
“I have been an active participant of Zipbob ever since my very first gathering and today is my third time to host an event,” said Chung Soon-young, a middle-aged, single woman and the host for “Finding a Second Career for Single Women” event. “I feel so liberated and relieved to be able to express my concerns, talk them out with others, and hear their stories, too, instead of keeping them just to myself.”
Recently, Kang Duck-hyung, a Zipbob staff, hosted a special event called “A Meal with Neighbors.” Participants visited Guryong Village to share food with the elderly living alone and enjoyed quality time with them by drawing their portraits, taking pictures, and simply being together.
“The number of senior citizens living in solitude has significantly increased, to a point where they make up more than 20 percent of the entire elderly population,” Kang said. “As one of Zipbob’s principles is to bring a sense of community into society, we decided to enjoy a meal with them, even just for a day.”
A wide variety of people, ranging from college students, those preparing to start their own businesses to travel maniacs attend.
Since the conversation does not diverge much from the appointed topic of the day and questions on individuals’ background are rarely asked, the participants are able to more freely converse with one another, not be preoccupied by perceptions on one another.
“The open-minded environment Zipbob provides allows participants to open up their genuine feelings and thereby the purest form of friendships can be formed,” said Lee Jeong-hwa, a participant.
“Zipbob is not about what you eat but whom you eat with; I hope this philosophy of ours can be dispersed in Korea, making ‘social dining’ a new cultural activity that everyone can enjoy,” Park said.