Think of it as a scavenger hunt for food.

Several hundred Northwestern University students wandered through downtown on Sunday, glancing down at maps and up at restaurant signs in search of free eats.

This was Big Bite Night, a chance to introduce NU students to places they could dine, and, of course, spend money in the future.. Thirty restaurants, listed on a map, gave out free samples.

Big Bite Night is more than 15 years old, and was the first project ever done by the Downtown Evanston marketing organization.

Last year, Big Bite Night was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, with students returning to campus, Big Bite was back as well.

Sophie David from Los Angeles, Cristina Warner from London, England, Alexia Browner from New York and Maddie Friedman from Chicago checking out Big Bite Night.

First-year student Sophie David said she “thinks it was a very good marketing technique” to show downtown restaurants to potential new customers.

In fact, her friend Maddie Friedman said she was so busy with on-campus activities the past couple of weeks that “she had not been to downtown Evanston until today.”

Originally, Big Bite Night was restricted to first-year students. But this time, sophomores were allowed to take part as well, because they missed the event last year.

Annie Coakley, of Downtown Evanston, said about 400 students picked up the maps in search of food. In years gone by, it has been as many as 1,000 participants. Rain this year probably held down the crowd.

With everything restaurants have been through due to COVID-related restrictions, attracting new business is particularly significant.

“It’s a good idea,” Liz Morales, owner of Cinnaholic baked goods, said about Big Bite Night. “A lot of students don’t know we’re here.”

They do now.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.