I twittered that I was having fun writing the chapter in my book about what a restaurant run on Googlethink might look like (besides being decorated in gaudy primary colors). Andy Carvin responded saying it might look like this: the Wiki Wiki Teriyaki restaurant in Austin. He said:

Rather than having a set menu, they just have a bunch of ingredients and invite you to bring your own. The diners, who call themselves “recipedians,” get to put together their own recipes and have them cooked. Other diners can then build on each other’s recipes and discuss them, creating a seemingly limitless array of recipes. Soon they’ll add ratings and tags to make it easier for diners to parse their options.

I got so excited that I stopped reading and immediately Googled the place. Odd, I thought, all they brag about is their sauce, not this bravely innovative way to open-source a restaurant.

Then I went back to Andy’s post and read the rest of it:

Actually, none of that is true. It’s just a restaurant with the word “wiki” in it. Twice. But how cool would that be?

Cool indeed. Andy got me without even trying.

Anyway, I have lots of ideas about an open and transparent restaurant operation, experience, and community. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please join in. Then maybe we can pull a McDonald’s and buy the Wiki Wiki and franchise it.

  • And I just love walking up Congress Avenue seeing the restaurant with the words “Wiki Wiki” emblazoned on their marquee. Still amazed they’re not the center of the action during SXSW. :-)

  • Joe-bo

    I have been in the restaurant business about 12 years now and just thinking about this open source restaurant theory has my mind going in hundreds of directions.

    First, in order for this to concept to work you need to assume that your customers are sophisticated in both online communications and cooking. For some reason fast food customers don’t strike me as masters of the kitchen or the internet savy first movers and people of influence.

    Another problem I see from a restaurant manager point of view is the problems this could cause with inventory. The risk of having so many ingredients stocked and the potential to drive up food cost is to risky.

    My feeling is that an open source restaurant could work, however only in an urban environment and an upscale establishment.

  • Google restaurant economics: outsource the menu manufacturing and then give the food away.

  • Joe-bo,

    I didn’t say fast food. No, I think this is more an idea for sophisticated restaurants. Fast food doesn’t ave sommeliers. So I agree.

    I’m not suggesting the joke model Andy put forward. But I think there are many other opportunities.

  • Adrian. LOL.
    Local real estate ads on the menus, eh?

  • Alex K


    I know it’s not a restaurant but if you’re taking ideas for companies to feature in the book, have you thought about American Apparel at all?

    Umair mentioned them a couple weeks ago as one of his asymmetric warriors.


  • There was a seafood restaurant in the Philippines that operated this way almost 20 years ago! I don’t remember the name (maybe Seafood Market) but the concept was genius.

    You go in and get a supermarket cart. You shop for all the ingredients (fish, shrimp, crabs, salad, potatoes, etc) and then pay for it. You then cart it all to your table and a waiter comes by and asks how you want it all cooked. They basically were ready to do every type of dish you wanted (eg. grilled, sautéed, teriyaki, sushi, fries, you name it) took your cart and 20 minutes later you had your meal.

    I am still surprised that I have never seen that type of restaurant anywhere else in the world!

  • scott

    @ Daniel,

    There’s a restaurant like that in Dalian in Northern China. Huge fish and seafood place where everything is live and in tanks, you go round pointing at stuff then the chef comes to your table and asks how you want it cooked. Next to the kempinski hotel, amazing place.

  • Puff Already does something similar, although you only get ingredient and sauce choice, cooking is fixed as grilling everything together at once.

  • Tree Frog

    Definitely needs bottles of Sriracha Rooster sauce on every table.

    Puff, that Mongolian Grille place is more like a buffet (the small variety of food choices have been mostly made for you).

    I’m thinking this could work as one of those Japanese restaurants where they cook the food in front of the group as you talk. Imagine bringing a bunch of ingredients to the chef and saying “Surprise me.”

    There’d be enough ingredients already on hand to get a bare bones meal, and I would think the chefs would somewhat like not cooking the same meal all that often.

    Post the Best Experimental Dish of the Week and the Worst too. Buy mostly local, not only to strengthen the community ties, but because the local supply changes every week.

  • gregory

    lol at adrian

    lots of street vendors like this in thailand …

  • Paul Zieke

    here’s why you rarely see a wikipedia-style restaurant: they don’t work. chef gordon ramsay points out on his ‘kitchen nightmares’ TV show that restaurants with large menus often fail because the customers just get confused by too many choices and the chefs can’t possibly make or stock every dish in a quality way. when ramsay makes over a restaurant the first thing he usually does is whittle the menu down to about 10% of its original offerings. then the chefs and wait staff can focus on doing those few things well. there may be a media lesson in this as well: newspapers that identify just 3 or 4 core coverage areas may do better than those that try to be all things to all people.

  • @Daniel I’ve seen it in China, too. And there’s the “Mongolian” BBQ places in the US.

  • There’s the Make&Take franchise, where the customers do the cooking with ingredients provided at the place, although I’m not sure how much menu creation there is.

  • Ed

    We’ve had the open source wine list in Australia for a while. It’s called BYO – some people bring in cheap crap and others fine wines. A few places recently have opened with a bottle shop attached adding $10 to the price if consumed in the restaurant. This is much more transparent than the mark-up of 1.5 to 3 x cost.
    I reckon the open source restaurant is BYO. Diners bring their ingredients, perhaps home grown. Perhaps tables can share and swap ingredients.
    As with the net the chef will have to deal with a lot of crap.

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  • Andy

    Why would you expect a restaurant that runs on Googlethink to be “an open and transparent restaurant operation” at all?

    Google is about as far away from “open and transparent” as you can get.

    Their search engine is completely proprietary. None of their algorithm is open source. If you’re an AdSense publisher, the amount of information you receive from Google is pretty much zero. You get a check from Google, that’s it. Google won’t tell you what proportion of the ad revenue they’ve kept for themselves.

    Google is one of the most secretive corporations in the world.

    A restaurant runs on Googlethink would:
    – have no menu. You will eat whatever the servers bring to you. They’re not going to tell you the name of the dishes
    – forget about asking about the ingredients either
    – there will also be no published prices. You give the restaurant your credit card number. At the end of the month you’ll get your credit card statement and you’ll find out how much the restaurant has decided to charge you.

  • Andy


    Seafood restaurants like what you described are very common in Hong Kong.

    In fact you don’t even have to buy the ingredients from the restaurant. You can pick your own seafood shop, go there and choose your seafood from the water tanks. You pay for the seafood you chose and have them sent over to your restaurant.

    Back at the restaurant you tell them how you’d like to have your food made and they’ll cook it exactly the way you want. The restaurant charges a “cooking fee”, as well as a corkage if you’re also bringing your own wine.

  • stefan

    @Andy about “open and transparent”

    Perfect description, thats truely the way it would be :) !

  • Our favorite noodle restaurant in Austin, Firebowl, is also openish. Though they also have amazing predone stuff, like the IMHO best Singapore Noodles in town.

    OK, well, Firebowl doesn’t let you bring your own stuff, nor does it have a recipe community per se. But it has an open veggie bar, several different noodle/rice choices, several different sauces, from black bean to ginger to fire, and 4-5 meat options. Recently I’ve been choosing my veggies by getting just a few from as many different veggies as possible to maximize diversity (my favorite bread’s also like that).

    North Austinites be warned, you have to go to the one at Lamar and Westgate; the one up north doesn’t do this. Hmm, now I’m wanting to go again tonight….

  • Cheever

    I don’t mean to get dire amid such fun, but speaking of Google!, have you seen the news today that the DOJ is starting an anti-trust probe on the Google/Yahoo! ad deal? Seems wacky, as someone said here:

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  • Moody

    There’s a boardwalk on the Cochin shore (southern India), Where you can buy the freshly caught fish/crab/lobster/shrimp etc and then there are a variety of cookeries wooing you to cook food the way you want it. That was uber-cool.

  • Jeff,

    Don’t know if you’ve seen today’s Washington Post food section, but there’s a story about a crowdsourced restaurant in the making.

  • Oops. It was Sunday’s WaPo, not today’s. Still, interesting idea. 386 people have contributed to the concept, design and marketing. The member space is here:

  • chip,
    thanks so much! i was JUST at this moment editing the restaurant chapter.

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  • At the Googleplex Open Food Source they would:

    outsource the menu to the “recipedians”,
    the rcpd-ans bring their own food,
    GOFS chefs prepare the meal for free,

    and Google monetizes the operation with Adsense listings on the chef and waitstaff uniforms which are embedded with fiberoptics…..

  • To say I am a little confussed about this subject would be an understatement. I am very confussed and am wondering what happened to the good old pick your own freshly caught fish on the indian, indonesian and south american beaches, then cooked in your own choice of sauce.

  • I love the idea…

    You’d end up with quite a few creative dishes I would imagine. It could be the “renaissance” era of cooking!

    Are there any restaurants out there that do this already?

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