This past Saturday Nov. 21, thousands of people across the world set up their own restaurant, café, or bar for one day only. “Restaurant Day” is a worldwide event where anyone can set up their own restaurant in their home, office, on a street corner, or even in a park. It is the world’s largest food carnival and takes place four times a year. Since its beginning in 2011, the festival has seen 23,000 one-day restaurants in 73 different countries, serving a total of over 2.7 million customers.
The event is set up by a team of volunteers based in Finland, who oversee the event and make sure everything runs smoothly. Restaurant Day has greatly impacted the food culture in Helsinki, and this new culture is spreading across the world as participation in the carnival increases.
“Restaurant Day is exactly the sort of project that will define our future,” wrote Jussi Pajunen, the Mayor of Helsinki, on the Restaurant Day website. “[It] has inspired the city’s population to question how things are run and to experiment and put forward new ideas of how daily life might be improved in the future.”
The festival creates its own community for a day, as fellow citizens are welcomed in to each other’s homes to share a meal. This has inspired the citizens of Helsinki to question how things are run, and imagine how they could change in the future.
“Restaurant Day is a prime example of how food can give birth to a new type of communality,” wrote Johanna Mäkelä, professor of Food Culture at the University of Helsinki, on the festival’s website.
In Montreal, over 200 pop-up restaurants set up shop around the city. A range of creative food and drink spots appeared, from cupcake shops, and vegan pizza to mulled wine. Some restaurants specialized in a specific food or beverages, while others offered a range different eats, including desserts and drinks.
To set up a restaurant, applicants had to register on an interactive map. The map was able to be accessed by restaurant creators and goers online, or on the “Restaurantday” App. It showed the location and information of every participating restaurant, and when users clicked on specific restaurants, the name, address, opening hours, menu, and a brief description appeared. The app allowed users to search restaurants by name, distance, and opening hours, and then favorite them to make a customized list of places to visit.
Two McGill students, Michelle Shi and Rachel Siu, set up their own sushi shop in their apartment on Rue Alymer, called “Siu & Shi Make Sushi in the (McGill) Ghetto.” Their menu featured spicy and regular california rolls and a vegetable roll, all $5 for eight pieces. It was their first time participating in the festival.
“At first we wanted to go to restaurants, but then I thought why don’t we just do our own,” Shi said. “When we realized our names Siu and Shi put together sound like sushi, we thought, how could we not open our own sushi place? We really did it for the experience and to meet new people, not so much for profit.”
Siu and Shi never expected their pop up to be as successful and popular as it was, but were pleasantly surprised with the amount of people their temporary store served.
“We expected just our friends and maybe a few other people to come, but we had everyone from students to older Montrealers stop by, ” Shi said.
Though they prepped for a few hours before opening, Shi said that they did not anticipate the amount of patrons they ended up getting.
“It ended up being so busy we kept running out of rice had to go back and forth to the store to get more,” Shi said.
While Shi enjoyed the experience of running a restaurant for a day, she has decided to forgo the experience come Restaurant Day next year.
“I’m really glad we did it this year […] It’s definitely something I would recommend doing once,” Shi said. “Everyone was really friendly and it was a great experience overall, but I think next year, we want to go check out other restaurants, and be on the other side [….] It was so fun, but also a lot of work.”
What makes this festival unique is how it allows anyone to become a chef and restaurant owner for a day. The style of interaction is also more informal than at a typical restaurant, allowing for a fun and casual dining experience.
“People were really friendly, and everyone was talking to each other,” Shi said. “We met some really interesting people.”
The culture surrounding Restaurant Day introduced a new way to interact as it encourages strangers to come together for a day to share a meal, and to get to know each other. Restaurant Day is creating a new, more inclusive culture surrounding food and the restaurant industry around the world. Montrealers eager to either set up their own restaurant, or to taste what their community has to offer, will be able to participate in Restaurant Day’s next event next February.