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Traveling the world and getting to know more than 30,000 people through pancakes

July 14, 2018


For the past 9 years I have met more than 30,000 people. How? By traveling the world and handing out Dutch pancakes for free wherever I go!

How it all started

My story started 9 years ago, when I was studying in Hong Kong for a university exchange program. My friends there cooked Asian food for me and in return I decided to serve them Dutch pancakes. This was a big success and people liked the pancakes and the atmosphere a lot. Back then I already thought that if this event was such a success in Hong Kong, why not anywhere else in the world?!

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When back in the Netherlands I started hosting people at my apartment­­ on Saturday nights, first for 10 or 20 people, but when encouraging my friends to invite more people, it soon grew out towards 100+ people every week. A few months into this, my landlord decided that he wanted to sell my apartment. At that moment I had to make a decision whether to rent a new apartment or to invest my salary in flight tickets and to travel the world in my free time. I decided on the second one and have since then been a nomad for the past 5+ years.

Initially I just approached my own friends who lived all over Europe and asked them whether they fancied to host an edition in their apartments. This worked, but the pace was low (only 1-2 editions per month). At one point I decided to approach strangers on Facebook, Couchsurfing, etc with the question whether they would know of suitable locations or to host the event in their own apartments. Luckily I was always able to find a location this way. However, nowadays the event has outgrown the capacity of regular apartments, so I decided to switch to bars, hostels and more professional venues.

Very different places

Over the course of these 9 years I have organized the pancake events for around 460 times, in 78 countries and in around 200 different cities, literally all over the world, from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro and from Dar es Salaam to Boston. During these events we prepared more than 50,000 Dutch pancakes!

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All the places I have visited are of course very different from each other, but the atmosphere at the events is surprisingly similar: people are generally very enthusiastic, easy-going and open to meet many more people. They are also often very willing to help and support, for example by finding locations for the events, helping with groceries, bringing along cooking material, preparing pancakes, or help with cleaning. Occasionally the location even looks cleaner than before the event!

How did the pancake event grow so big?

I have always wondered what drove the success of these events. I think the following factors made the difference:

  1. Pancakes: people all over the world love pancakes and most people have tried them since they are young. In many countries the pancakes even have their own method of preparation and flavor.
  2. Diverse crowd: the events typically attract a very diverse and international crowd, from many different cultures and professional backgrounds.
  3. Personal approach: I try to write everyone who indicates to be interested, either by liking, clicking to attend, joining a group chat etc. Welcoming and encouraging them to bring more people, drives conversion.
  4. Pop-up event: I generally organize these events only one time in a city, so people have no other chance to try the event out in that city.
  5. Free food: there are not too many events around the world with unlimited free food. It is therefore not surprising that potential attendants of the events are often suspicious and think that there must be a way I earn money with these events (which is not the case).

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What are my plans for the future?

Even though I have organized these pancake events for 9 years already, I never looked further than 3 months. There were many moments that I thought about stopping, for example if I experienced disappointments or setbacks or if I did not feel like putting in the effort required to organize more editions. However, there were always many more moments that I felt so happy having completed editions successfully and getting a lot of positive feedback from participants. That has always kept me going!

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As for the Dutch pancake nights, I keep on searching for ways to make the experiences for the participants more unique, for example by making them larger (I now think of creating an XXL edition for more than 1000 people), at more unique locations (in an embassy, on a yacht, etc), by creating social impact (e.g. community building, charity), or otherwise.

How can you join?

In case you are also curious to join a Dutch Pancake edition, feel free to visit the event in Hong Kong on Saturday 21 July: https://www.facebook.com/events/201543413811969/

If you cannot make it to the edition in Hong Kong, then here you can find the calendar with other editions: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Dutch-Pancake-events-1127435713963068/events

Here you can find two related videos about the Dutch Pancake Night:

– My TEDx speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPa7V5shQAs&t=250s

– An impression of the event: https://vimeo.com/256783761

Next to that, I do hope that people will be inspired by this journey, connecting people through 3 different ingredients: milk, flour and eggs. And I do hope that people will also start using their own ingredients to shape their own unconventional lifestyle!

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Bio

Robin Vogelaar has a background in finance (at MIT Sloan School of Management) and management consulting (at The Boston Consulting Group and ING Bank in Amsterdam) and currently travels the world bringing people together through Dutch pancakes and supporting NGOs and social enterprises with volunteer consulting on any strategic topic.