It’s the little things that add up to a regional culture of entrepreneurship. While I’m sure organizations like AaltoES and Tekes would be happy to take the credit for how ubiquitous entrepreneurial hype is in Helsinki, I’m glad there are events like Restaurant Day spread entrepreneurial culture to the streets by helping hundreds pop-up restaurants open four times a year.
Restaurant Day’s goal is to spread food culture, but I believe it also serves as the spark that makes people realize there’s value in providing the market with something unique. Every self-proclaimed chef has dreams of opening that restaurant or cute coffee shop, and Restaurant Day provides the ecosystem with the same effects as a hackathon. It gets people beyond the idea of starting a restaurant, into the doing.
On the first Restaurant Day on the 21st of May 2011 almost 40 restaurants opened in 13 different towns. This past event saw 700 restaurants pop up in 19 countries, including some 70 cities and towns in Finland.
Restaurant Day is not without a cool digital history. Kristi Tuominen from Restaurant Day tells us, “We organized a so-called ‘Mobile Camp’ in mid January 2012 where we invited highly skilled professionals to collaborate with us voluntarily, i.e. without any compensation. During one long weekend a group of approx. 20 guys and girls with different backgrounds developed and created both our new website and the apps for Windows Phone, iOS, Symbian^3 and Android.
“Jyrki Vanamo from the Restaurant Day crew was managing the camp as he is responsible for all the technical stuff in our team. Futurice supported the Mobile Camp by offering their premises for the weekend, and Nebula is hosting our website. All the participants of the Mobile Camp participated as private persons, i.e. not representing any company.”
Both services came out great, and finding restaurants easy and accessible. In particular I was pleased with the mobile app just by the spontaneity it provided. Early Saturday afternoon I walked around the city using both my nose and moble app as a guide, and my stomach was very satisfied.
Later in the afternoon I helped some friends prepare some Italian appetizers where they had all the ingredients flown fresh over from Italy. I happened to have an iZettle chip card reader, so I helped set up one of the chefs with an account.
iZettle seems designed for situations like Restaurant Day, and it worked great in practice. Cash transactions are expected at every pop-up restaurant, but four out of our 60+ customers didn’t have any cash and actually thought to ask if we took credit cards. It felt smooth to say we did, added even more by how easy the iZettle process goes.
Payments are quick, and the on-screen signature process through the iPhone seems like something that shouldn’t exist yet. I think we wanted to play with the iZettle app more than our customers wanted a receipt, but we were sure to take a picture of the food and send them a receipt by email.
We had one hang-up using iZettle — one guy’s cards had trouble being authorized. My only suggestion to iZettle would be to help us out in troubleshooting those situations; we had no idea if it was the internet, if we were trying the wrong cards, or if the guy was just broke. Perhaps letting users know where the process failed, or a reminder of what type of cards work would be handy.
But as a money-making tool, iZettle worked great. I think this is the real value of days like Restaurant Day: capitalism is accessible. Hundreds of restaurant ideas were tested on the market, and new innovations are given the platform to stand on their own merit.
It would be nice Resturant Day was everyday, so I could sell homemade, organic, free-range, locally-sourced popsicles to yuppies and make a quick buck whenever I want. But there’s no reason to limit ourselves to a storefront when we have the internet. There’s never been a larger market with lower barriers to entry. On the internet every day is restaurant day. Get yourself something to eat.
Edit: This article has been updated with better information on the creation of Restaurant Day’s website and App.