By: Patrick Lupinski
Back in May I was invited to Helsinki, Finland to experience Restaurant Day. Restaurant Day is a day where anyone, for one day, can open a restaurant. It can be in their home, in the park, or even on the street. One of the founders, Timo Santala, says “it’s a day when we have the possibility to fulfill our wildest dreams of having our own restaurant.” It happens four times a year with the hope to inspire seasonal cooking and above all—community. But this isn’t a post about how I spent my day feasting on delicious treats, though, they were maybe some of the best I’ve ever had. Instead, I’d like to tell you how it became a global movement in less than two years.
Back in April of 2011, three friends were discussing their frustrations with running a restaurant. They were tired of the endless paperwork, bureaucracy, and restrictions when it came to running a restaurant. After speaking with friends in and out of the industry, they realized they were on to something. Apparently a lot of people daydream about opening a restaurant some day. So, they started a Facebook Page and within weeks, there were several hundred folks that had Liked the page who also seemed to share the same feeling.
With the help of a few tech-savvy volunteers, a registration web site was built. Soon thereafter a mobile application was designed and developed for basically every single type of mobile phone including Nokia’s Symbian – they had to be loyal to Nokia, of course. The app works with google maps and let’s you know where there are restaurants in your area, what they are serving, and soon it’ll let you know whether or not there is still food available.
The first Restaurant Day was announced to take place on the 21st of May in 2011. While all of this was very exciting, the founders knew they had to keep the momentum going via their social networks. They created graphics as well as original photo and video content to post with the hope of inspiring future restaurateurs while also spreading the word to those that didn’t yet know about the event. Folks from the press caught on and covered this new concept, too. All the effort worked! By the second Restaurant Day in August of 2011, over 200 restaurants that spanned 30 cities in Finland as well as 4 surrounding countries opened!
Professional photographers were asked to document the event. Selected photos were housed on their Flickr. But it didn’t stop there, hundreds of photos also came in via Instagram and Twitter from those out and about. The professional photos have been used for press purposes while the user-generated ones have been distributed through Restaurant Day’s various social channels.
Over the course of a year, each Restaurant Day grew with more people from all over the world registering their very own pop-up restaurant. Fast forward to May of 2012, the team received funding from World Design Capital Helsinki to fly in potential ambassadors and press from various other cities to experience it for themselves. These ambassadors were encouraged to then return home and set up their own Facebook Pages to start promoting the idea within their local circles.
Because everyone involved is so spread out around the world, the founders created a private group on Facebook for the ambassadors. This is where the brainstorming takes place. The private group offers quite the open and helpful forum where ideas are exchanged, questions are answered between the 42 members, and communication is maintained.
The mini digital ecosystem is very impressive and has been built by all to help facilitate the spread of the movement. The beauty of Restaurant Day’s digital properties is that there is no paid media involved at all — it’s all owned and earned. When there are timely goals set by clients and investors, some times paid media is necessary to help spread a campaign. In this case, however, the founders weren’t pressured to meet any deadlines or profit goals. But the idea of owning a restaurant and eating good food has proven to be inherently social on its own which allowed for it to spread so quickly, organically, and for little to no money at all.
The most recent Restaurant Day boasted 782 restaurants around the world. This year Poland, the U.K., Iceland, Japan, and Canada joined. The movement has made such an impact on Finland that the mayor of Helsinki was even quoted saying: “The city has a lot to learn from Restaurant Day.” I have a feeling that the city of Helsinki isn’t the only one that has a lot to learn from Restaurant Day.