Have you heard of Restaurant Day? It’s a really cool initiative, especially if you enjoy cooking and entertaining. The idea originated in Finland a couple of years ago and, as per the website:
“Restaurant Day is a food carnival when anyone can open a restaurant for a day. The idea of the day is to have fun, share new food experiences and enjoy our common living environments together.”
Ever since I found out about it, I’ve always toyed with the idea of participating in Restaurant Day. The reason I never did was that it’s not quite for me. While I love to cook and don’t mind entertaining a manageable number of people, the idea of opening my house to strangers or more than three friends at a time (I know, I know – please try not to judge me) brings about an anxious feeling of helplessness and makes me want to wring my hands just thinking about it.
(My home is a private, orderly, lovingly curated space filled with art and zen. Also, I have a carpet in my lounge which I absolutely love and which I absolutely know something would get spilled on that my bitter tears would not be able to dry. So there. Judge me if you must!)
So instead, I tailored the initiative to my own terms, and came up with what I decided to call Local Delivery Day. A few years ago I’d read an article in one of those vain in-flight magazines (that I’m a total sucker for) about a woman in Paris who makes a living delivering sandwiches on her bicycle. On the thick, glossy paper, her lifestyle looked painfully stylish (probably because of the painfully stylish photo of a wispy brunette with deep dark eyes, sitting on an old-fashioned bicycle in a breezy summer dress, a neat brown paper box strapped to the back of the bicycle). Ever since then, the idea of doing something similar has haunted me. And because I’m always full of great ideas that I never execute, I told myself that, this time, I was just going to do it. And so I plunged in.
Below is an account of what I did, how I did it, and the lessons I’ve learned for a – potential – next time around.
What I Did
Having come up with the idea for a Local Delivery Day, I decided to cook and deliver a lunch menu to 20 of my coworkers on the Monday following Restaurant Day on 21 February 2016. I live a 10-minute walk from my office, so this seemed manageable.
I planned the menu, sent out an e-mail requesting orders, had people fill out fun order forms, ordered a bunch of biodegradable soup containers, filled my shopping cart to the brim with ingredients, and got to cooking and delivering!
How I Did It
Because I’d never cooked for 20 people before, I tried to make things as simple as possible for myself. Therefore, the menu was pretty basic: hot Mexican bean soup with tomatoes, red beans, corn, and cilantro, a burrito with red and white rice, baked sweet potato, feta cheese and cilantro, and a slice of banana bread with dark chocolate chunks.
On Sunday, I made the soup and baked the banana bread. On Monday (which I took off of work), I baked the potatoes and cooked the rice in the morning, and assembled the burritos right before delivery. I delivered the lunches in two batches – one at 11.00 a.m., the other at 12.30 p.m.
I did ask for a payment for the lunch, but made the amount entirely optional (mainly because I had no idea how much it was okay to ask for, and anyway I was doing it less for the money and more for the fun). Incidentally, it was a very good business. Supplies were surprisingly cheap and my coworkers were unexpectedly generous. I spent about 55 Eur (60 USD) on all the supplies (groceries + packaging) and received about as much in return.
What I Learned
That the creative/planning phase is the most fun. Compiling the menu, taking in the orders, shopping for the ingredients and scheduling my work was incredibly satisfying.
The actual cooking and delivering was fun as well, but a tad more stressful. (Mostly because I had zero experience.) I thought I was being reasonable when I purchased 4 cans of beans and 2 cans of chopped tomatoes to make a thick and hearty soup for 20 people, and broke out into a silent panic when, after dunking the contents of all those cans into a gigantic pot (which I had to borrow from my partner), realised that it was barely halfway full. Also, the grocery shop delivered white sweet potatoes instead of red sweet potatoes, which kind of ruined my whole burrito idea, but at that point – which was Monday morning – I decided to just deal with it. (Turns out everyone – including me – survived.)
What I totally didn’t expect was that, after making things super easy for myself (creating a simple menu, preparing in advance) I would still be running around like a headless chicken on Monday morning: rolling tortillas, ladling soup, labelling bowls, arranging order forms, throwing on something presentable and rushing out the door in flustered haste.
By the time it was all over, I was hot and sweaty, frazzle-haired, and had no memory whatsoever of what I had been doing for the past couple of hours. Yet, as I collapsed into my comfy armchair and put my feet up on the rest, happy that it was all over and that I didn’t have to do it all over again the next day, I knew it was a good kind of thrill.
Tips For You
If you think you’d like to have some fun delivering your own home-cooked lunch to a bunch of your friends, family, or coworkers, you should definitely learn from the experts. Ahem. No, seriously, check out my tips below.
- Set limits. I decided to cook for 20 people and I think it was just the right balance between challenging and manageable. (That said, I have a minuscule kitchen and virtually no equipment so perhaps you could outdo me by a mile.)
- Buy more food than you think you will need. This was my steepest learning curve. In the end, I made it work so that I had enough food for everyone, but between stressing out if I was going to have enough soup to rationing too little rice and too many potatoes for my burritos – bref. Next time, I’ll calculate how much of everything I’ll need for one person (which I actually did do this time) and then buy 1/4 more of everything. After all, leftovers never last too long in my house.
- Cut (some) corners. Make things as easy as possible for yourself. In fact, make them too easy! I chose very simple dishes and used canned everything to make the soup, and I still ended up pretty rushed assembling all the burritos on D day. That said, I made sure to buy quality ingredients so that, even though some of them came from a can, they didn’t spoil the end result.
- Add personal touches. The order forms I had my coworkers fill out helped me keep track of orders and be aware of any food restrictions. They also allowed me to ask them whether they liked spicy food and to adjust the seasonings of individual portions accordingly. Actually, personalising the dishes was one of my favourite things to do!
- Carry a towel. (Read: don’t panic!) If things go awry, just do the best you can with what you have. The bottom line is, you’re doing this for fun, so roll with it. As one sweet coworker remarked with regards to my sweet potato debacle – it was more distressing to me than to anyone else. (And she was completely right.)
- DO IT! If this is something you’ve been considering, you should absolutely go for it. Heck, even if this is something you haven’t been considering but are intrigued by the idea, you should absolutely go for it. I had fun, challenged myself a little, and made a bunch of people very, very happy.
So, with my crazy experiment behind me, will there ever be a next time? The next Restaurant Day is on 21 May. And honestly… yeah, I already know what I’m going to cook for May’s Local Delivery Day. Perhaps you’ll join in? *wink*