By: Julia Bushueva

One of the most exciting elements of Pop Up events is their ability to take a conventional activity and transform it, by placing it in a unique environment. Restaurant Day is an example of such a Pop Up event. Originated in Helsinki in May 2011, the event has become a spectacular experience that takes the concept of food to a new level.

The thing about temporary restaurants is that they must not only provide their guests with outstanding food, but also an experience that will set them apart from the conventional dining. The idea of a Restaurant Day is to let people create a restaurant of their dream, a place that they would like to visit themselves. The event has become a celebration of a restaurant culture in a fun and community-like atmosphere without obsessive health regulations involved in the restaurant business. The unique nature of the event and its atmosphere create a special engagement amongst the diners (most of whom don’t even know each other), which would be hard to recreate in any other social experience.

Originated as an event erasing the boundaries and bureaucratic limitations, Restaurant Day has an essential rule set by the organizers that the participants must follow: restaurants cannot have a clear “commercial, political or religious aim”, as well as they cannot be “linked to existing brands, or advertising a commercial space or a business”. This rule seems to be important for sustaining the purpose of the event and maintaining its character. However, one might argue that once the event continues growing and every time a larger number of people gets to participate in it, it will be hard (if not to say impossible) to maintain it as a non-commercial event.

Popularization of the Restaurant Day has a huge potential for business to test new ideas, such as packaging, presentation, menu assortment, etc. It is almost unavoidable that the Restaurant Day will become a big attraction not only for participants, but also for media seeking the latest city happenings. The big question here is how will the Restaurant Day change with time and will it be able to maintain its non-commercial character?

There seem to be a few possibilities, depending on whether a more “regulated” or a “relaxed” approach is taken. “Regulated” approach would mean taking more control of who can participate and ensuring that the non-commercial idea of the event is followed by all the participants. A “relaxed” approach would mean relying mostly on the responsibility of the participants and their genuine honesty to be part of the movement for the purposes of enhancing community rather than earning an income. However, whichever approach is taken, it is almost inevitable that the Restaurant Day movement will grow and eventually even become a festival. At the same time, there might be some positive aspects in case the event becomes partially commercial. It can possibly change an entire system of the restaurant business through gradual adjustment of legislation, popularization of community dining and emphasis on collaboration and creativity.

After all, Restaurant Day was initiated and kept running with the support of the Helsinki community. Thus, the further transformation of the event will depend on the efforts and ethical approach of people involved in it. It is impossible to prevent social change from happening; but there are ways to lead it into a more positive direction.