Toronto's Serial Diners celebrate 25 years of alphabetical dining in 2014

By Stephanie Dickison Last night, Toronto’s Serial Diners celebrated their 25th anniversary. The ever-evolving dining group has been eating out at restaurants listed in the Yellow Pages, every Friday at 6pm since. They started at A (The AC Ranch Café on St. Clair Ave. W., where they didn’t really serve food. It was more of a club for elderly Italian gentlemen, but a woman there put on a massive pot of spaghetti that never seemed to decrease in volume.). Last night, they got to "M," with Mariachi’s on Yonge next on the list, so that’s where they celebrated. It all started though, back in 1989.

Founder Jason Taniguchi, who was in university at the time, had an idea - why not have big conversations with friends and others once a week at the same location? What fun! Problems arose, however, when he tried to find the perfect place – they were either too expensive, too precarious or crowded. So he decided to be systematic about it and decided to let the Yellow Pages govern which restaurant they’d go to. Taniguchi says it’s part of what made it so successful, as it was “always a unique experience.” There are surprisingly few rules and they all pertain to the restaurants, not diners. For example, if they go the next restaurant that’s been listed and it’s closed for whatever reason, they go somewhere else in the neighbourhood, not the next one on the list, so no one misses out. No skipping places on the list! And while the city amalgamated back in 1998, it took the Yellow Pages awhile to follow suit. Pre-amalgamation, the Serial Diners took long treks out to Scarborough and Etobicoke restaurants. They even went as far as Elora and Port Perry. Since most of the regulars are centrally located however, it started having an effect on attendance, so they changed the rules so that the place can be no more than 20 mins from a TTC or RT stop. The diners speed through letters like “I” but once spent half a year just on places that started with “Café.” What began as a paper list handed out during dinner, can now be accessed online via their website. Taniguchi’s editorial notes are worth the read alone. And should you love Mars Diner, they are visiting them all, starting this Boxing Day. They try for separate bills, but not all restaurants offer that, so “we’ve got very good at figuring it all out,” says Taniguchi, though he does admit there have been a few “dicey dinners.” People come and go, but some have stayed like Charles Levi, a historian, who has chronicled all the restaurants and attendees since the beginning. He is another reason, says Taniguchi, why the club has lasted as long as it has. Because some weeks it’s just two people that go out. The average is 5-12, depending on the week. The most was 59, for their 15th anniversary. Though Taniguchi doesn’t attend every week (he has kids now), he still tries to go as often as he can. “Most weeks, there’s something interesting and I usually have a pretty decent meal.” 25 years and 1,300 restaurants later, they have reached as far as the letter “M.” p.s. New diners are welcome to join. Just click on the agenda to see where Toronto’s Serial Diners will be dining out next and show up! They meet every Friday night at 6pm.

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