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The restaurant of mistaken orders, Tokyo

Let’s say you and your friends have taken the time to get together and go out for a meal. You sit waiting for everything you have ordered to be brought out; however, when it is, over a third of the dishes are not what you ordered. What do you do? Send the food back? Leave a bad review?

Not at the Restaurant of Mistaken Orders you don’t. The restaurant was open for one day in Shizuoka, Japan, as an experiment into human kindness and compassion. The organisers reported that 37% of the orders were incorrect and yet 99% of customers left satisfied.
The catch? All the waitering staff have dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of diseases that impair an individual’s cognitive function, making remembering things, thinking clearly, and reasoning difficult. Unfortunately, many of us have seen the alienating reality of living with dementia and have watched as our loved ones become less sure of their surroundings and increasingly dependent on others to go about their daily lives.

Dementia can be extremely socially isolating with one report finding 40-50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease displayed depressive symptoms.

Credit: The restaurant of mistaken orders, Tokyo

Japan has one of the fastest aging populations in the world with almost 30% of its population over 65 and 10% over 80. Related to this, Japan also has the highest prevalence of dementia in the world; in 2017 Japan had 23.3 dementia patients in every 1000 people. Predictions estimate 7 million people will be living with dementia in Japan by 2025.

The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders was the idea of Shiro Oguni, to reframe interactions between those with dementia and those without. The idea sprang from an interaction that happened when Oguni visited a home for people with dementia. Having ordered a hamburger steak for lunch, he received gyozas. Around him, residents of the home had begun eating and so Oguni brushed the mix up off and began to eat.

“Why raise our eyebrows at the difference between sizzling steak and gyoza?”, he later told a reporter, “So it’s a mistake, well, fine.”

Whilst the food was unexpected, Oguni experienced an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance that turned the dining room into “relaxed and delightful” space.

And so, he tried to recreate that space in the Restaurant of Mistaken Orders.

Credit: The restaurant of mistaken orders, Tokyo

When all the waiters have dementia, food gets mixed up, staff may sit down with customers, drinks get forgotten – but it all comes with openness and understanding.

A video recapping the event on their company website shows staff and customers laughing over forgotten plates or incorrect drinks. The atmosphere is warm and communal, a world away from the typically ‘professional’ relationship between a waiter and customer as people take photos with one another and exchange stories about their own families. The room bursts with a sense of community and an openness to people who have lived different lives.

“Like everybody else,” Oguni said, “my awareness of dementia at first tended towards negative images of people who were ‘radically forgetful’ and ‘aimlessly wandering about.’ However, the restaurant offered them an empowering space in which to work, demonstrating it is not necessarily the condition itself which is debilitating to the sufferer, but, a societal setting ill-equipped to support them.

Whilst the pop-up only lasted a day, maybe we can all take something from it. The experiment demonstrates that it is not physical or mental disabilities that are necessarily what limits us and our loved ones. It is the failure of our world to adapt to and incorporate these disabilities within the mainstream. Our personal weaknesses are only so without the right environment supporting us.

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  • Kate Crawley

    Kate Crawley is an English Literature Graduate from University College London. Beyond writing, she likes being outside, going to the gym, and reading.

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