So for the last couple of years I’ve been participating in the summer editions of Restaurant Day in Berlin.
As stated on their website, Restaurant Day is a “food carnival where anyone can open a restaurant for a day. It happens every 3 months, in February, May, August and November. Taken from their website:
Restaurant Day is a food carnival created by thousands of people organizing and visiting one-day restaurants worldwide. The idea of the day is to have fun, share new food experiences and enjoy our common living environments together. The event is facilitated by a team of volunteers who also maintain this website. All restaurateurs are personally responsible for all actions related to running their restaurants.
The first year I did it, I made Indonesian-style fritters (perkedel), with different dips to go with it. I was friendly with the guys who run Mercado San Cosme on Torstrasse and they agreed to host me and my event in their lovely space; it was a good arrangement since they didn’t charge me an event fee, they made enough money from the bar/selling drinks.
It was quite stressy in the morning before the event. I was baking like crazy in my kitchen and assigned my friends to one or more tasks on the to-do list: set up the space, draw the menu poster, be the order taker, chopping the raw vegetables, etc. Make sure you have support on the day, in case you’re not making things in advance.
The second year, I partnered up with Phil of FlavorPhil. We made Southern-style fried chicken and waffles with 3 kinds of sauces (honey-Szechuan pepper, maple syrup-chilli, lime-pomegranate), and we had a vegetarian version with cauliflower. This was a crazy amount of cooking as well, since the dish required several components and needed to be assembled. The sauces were easy, we made them in advance and didn’t need a top-up. But throughout the afternoon, there was a constant waffle-, chicken- and cauliflower-production line, and everything was assembled as orders came in.
For both events, about 80-100 portions were prepared. We didn’t lose money; in fact, we made money on top of the expenses, but this went directly to buying nice bottles of wine as thank-you gifts for our friends who supported us on the day. We had a lot of fun and always learned a lot when we do these things.
This year, though, I wanted to do something different. The bummer about cooking for Restaurant Day is that you can’t really hang out with your friends. Additionally, several friends, who had attended my Restaurant Day events in the past, had expressed their interest in doing one too… So I thought I could just organise and project-manage the whole thing, instead of popping my own eatery.
Somehow the stars aligned and I found the perfect venue for the event at the S1516 project space. The location was fantastic, between Mauerpark and Brunnenstraße, where, on Sundays, there’s plenty of foot traffic, and is easily reachable by public transport. I found an affordable food stall rental company (Markt Stand-Fest, highly recommended!), several friends who wanted to cook, and everything was good to go.
So, for our Restaurant Day in August 2016, we had…
- Katie with her cookies and a selection of lemonades.
- Neil and Jess shared a stand. Neil made his famous spicy chilli con carne and Jess made her signature Korean Fried Rice.
- Sarah’s stand sold hand pies: peach and blueberry.
- Chika offered Japanese curry, served with rice and free tea.
- Katja, Shumeng and Meng rolled out 1000 dumplings (5 per portion) and homemade soy milk.
- Stephanie concocted three special cocktails just for Restaurant Day.
- Daniel Thorban, the venue’s owner, sold cold beers and soft drinks.
We got lucky with the weather; all week my weather app had said thunderstorms were expected, but it stayed sunny and warm the whole day, and only stormed as we closed up for the day. About 350-400 people came, and most of them hung out in the yard all afternoon. There was a big Nokia/HERE crowd, a wire crowd and a Futurice + Fjord group that dominated an entire table; generally a really nice bunch of friends and people!
The event feedback was all positive; the number of stands, as well as the selection of food on offer, was just right, not too much that people got overwhelmed, and each were interesting enough/had strong USP. The only negative feedback was more related to the lack of Restaurant Day findability/website bug, rather than our event.
Interested in organising your own?
- Find a venue. This is potentially the most challenging, since the location and your cooking are closely interlinked; e.g if you’re selling cookies, you can bake at home and sell at the park, but when you’re making hot food, you’d need access to a kitchen.
- Location: I recommend finding somewhere close to the main activity spots in your town and somewhere easy to reach and find, e.g a spot on a lakeside would be great in the summer, but not if you can only get there by car. A city park, a small cafe or a friend’s studio would be my pick.
- Facilities: I’d say the kitchen and cooking-serving facilities are most important, and the other things like toilets and dining tables are optional … Make sure your food matches the environment it’s served in, e.g serving steaks is great but people usually need tables and cutlery for eating it.
- Cost: I calculate things in advance, and make sure I won’t lose money. Some event venues would waive the fee if you guarantee enough visitors that they can make enough money from the drinks and other services.
- Find food vendors, or, if popping up your own, figure out your offering.
- Curation of food vendors: aim for a good mix of sweet and savoury offerings, unless you’ve specifically themed the event to be a sweet-only, or craft-beer only event.
- Deciding what to sell/cook yourself: what’s your signature dish? What’s the amount of food you’re comfortable in producing? For most beginners, this could be 40-50 dishes, and if you’re serving cookies or cakes, the amount could be higher.
- Advertise your event.
- Create a Facebook event: I use this to estimate how many people will turn up. Usually, 80% of the Facebook RSVP is a sane amount to base your final visitor figure on.
- Register your event on the Restaurant Day website, with a link to the Facebook event so people can RSVP.
- On the day, make sure…
- the signage for your event is up so people can easily find your event: I hung up signs at the end of the street, at the entrances, at the nearest U-bahn and bus/tram stops.
- you have enough volunteers or friends who don’t mind helping out for an hour or two, there’s always something to be done.
- that as the organiser, you support your friends/food vendors, especially the first-timers.
- Helpful tips:
- cash box: with 5-10-20€ bills, some 10-20€ in change, 1-2 post-it stacks, 1-2 pens. I avoid charging half Euros for meals, e.g 2.5€/3.5€ and instead do whole numbers so I don’t have to fiddle with change.
- DIY your own RD chef box: fill up a a backpack or wine crate or other containers with a roll of trash bags, tissues (I bring a mix of wet and dry tissues/kitchen rolls), extra pairs of gloves, a thick permanent marker/magic marker, some paper (I bring a few sheets of construction paper, rolled up), some masking tape, an extra dish towel, an extra apron, a sponge, all-purpose cleaner.
Hopefully this post has been helpful and encourages you to pop-up your own Restaurant Day event. Maybe I’ll see you at the next one?