From a fresh idea to a global festival

By: Susa Eräranta

Thousands of people using social media for finding possibilities of trying interesting cuisine in their neighborhoods. Local pop-up restaurants opening up from nowhere and disappearing overnight. Tables, chairs, food and beverage in places one wouldn’t have expected to find them. Hundreds of people serving self-made food, having fun and testing their wildest restaurant ideas for one day all over the world. What is happening?

It is the Restaurant Day! A worldwide one-day festival during which private persons can open their own pop-up restaurants around the participating cities. Restaurant Day was first organized in Helsinki, Finland, in May 2011 for fighting the high hygiene regulations and having fun, but has grown ever since in the number of participating cities, countries and restaurants opened.

Restaurantday.org provides some general guidelines for setting up the restaurants, but the only strictly regulating rule seems to be that all restaurants with a clearly commercial, political or religious aim; or restaurants linked to existing commercial brands; or advertising a commercial space or a business, will be removed from the service of listing one’s restaurant on the official website. So what exactly are we talking about here? Why has the initial idea of three Finnish friends become a global movement in less than two years? What causes it to come about in different countries?

Since the beginning, Restaurant Day has been gradually growing. On the first Restaurant Day on May 21st 2011 almost 40 restaurants were opened in 13 different towns. And latest, the sixth Restaurant Day was organized on August 19th 2012 with 782 restaurants opened in 12 different countries. There seems to be some kind of demand for the idea. Is it only the initial enthusiasm? Or is it going to last? Does it remain the same when implemented in other countries? Is the idea still recognizable in another environment?

The Restaurant Day has expanded quite rapidly to 12 countries with the initial idea remaining more or less similar. When one thinks of the Restaurant Day as a system it becomes interesting. Systems are always defined in relation to their environment, so one could expect the Restaurant Day to vary according to local cultures, traditions, social networks etc. The first Restaurant Day was organized partly because of the high hygiene regulations of Finland, and has partially been seen as criticism to the strict standards of setting up restaurants. But is it the main reason? Would it be the main motivator for implementing the idea elsewhere? Or can it be seen as a social happening, a new way for the emerging communality and presenting alternative lifestyles? And how has it expanded so fast?

At first it seemed impossible to find any information of the Restaurant Days outside Finland. But it was for a good reason. According to the Restaurant Day ambassadors social media is the most important information channel for the festival. And indeed, after logging in to Facebook, the information began to pour out – global and local networks of Restaurant Day organizers and enthusiasts.

Maybe the idea of Restaurant Day has remained as coherent as it has, because it has expanded so rapidly through social media. It hasn’t had years and years to evolve and get more localized forms. It has been less than two years since the first festival, and will now be organized for the seventh time on November 17th 2012. Restaurant Day is still in quite an early phase of adoption in every participating city and country. It remains still an activity for a minority and has not exceeded the limit of broad publicity in most of the countries.

But will the Restaurant Day sometime pass the early adoption phase and become a festival for the majority? Or will it remain as an activity for the small minority – for the likeminded people worldwide? Is the initial idea of Restaurant Day clear and strong enough to survive in the future? Will the various environments worldwide try to sustain this kind of activity, is there need for the idea? Or is it going to change, take more localized forms, or disappear? Is there enough energy to keep the system and process going, or growing beyond the adoption by the early minority? An important factor in analyzing systems is time. Also in this case only time will show us, how Restaurant Day will develop in the long run.