Dinner Lab: An Experiment in Creating Community

It seems there is a new approach to building community rising up in several cities across the nation related to food, wine, friends and fun!  As a self-proclaimed foodie, I’m loving it!  It is a wonderful mash up of people coming together based on the common theme of unique and wonderful dishes from rising-star chefs.

130807_LogoThe organization I’m most familiar with is Dinner Lab, a membership-based dining experiment which views itself as “the vehicle for food that tells a story, to diverse people, in an interesting space.”  I knew I needed to be a part of this movement as soon as I heard about it coming to Kansas City about a year ago at this time!

Indeed, what’s special about Dinner Lab is the way it creates community.  Essentially, the organization allows up-and-coming chefs to showcase their talent for a group of adventurous local diners. These chefs get to experiment and grow, being given the opportunity to create their dream menu for a group of actively participating foodies. The guests give feedback directly to the chef which allows the chef and Dinner Lab to develop in a way the typical restaurant experience simply doesn’t allow.

To learn more about the behind-the-scenes nature of Dinner Lab, I spoke with 24-year old, actress-turned-Assistant Event Manager, Lisa Carbonari, from Dinner Lab’s headquarters in New Orleans.  This high-energy and extremely gracious hostess said, “One of the first ways I ever described Dinner Lab was as a ‘food rave.’ A group of like-minded people get together to eat an experimental menu, drink and be merry, all in a secret venue for one or two nights only.  We then disappear, leaving no clue of where we will pop up next. Our guests leave at the end of the night happy and discussing exciting ideas with new friends.”

Lisa Carbonari DinnerLabLisa shared several stories of the many times she’s witnessed great connections being made before her very eyes at Dinner Lab events.  She believes one important factor in the building of relationships is the way the room is set up at Dinner Lab events with family-style seating – sort of like sitting at a massive Thanksgiving dinner. Participants are all there for the same reason:  To enjoy and appreciate new food and drink in an interesting space.  As such, diners already have something in common with the strangers sitting next to them. Members may come to the dinners with a “plus one,” or even several guests, but the room set up drives engagement with others. So, whether it’s a woman who attends the meal on her own only to leave with the names and contact information for the people with whom she is sitting who all commit to attend future dinners as a group… or, the chef who attends Dinner Lab as a diner and engages his fellow tablemates in conversations about their dream menus and food preparation, people are coming together in a meaningful and fun way.

Though it’s only been up and running for three years, Dinner Lab already operates in 31 cities and counting.  Annual memberships range in price from about $125-$175 depending on the city and the price for each dinner ranges from about $45-$75 per person, depending on the menu.  Based on my own experience, it’s well worth the price of entry for the unique and inspired five-course meals and open bar that we have had access to each time.  And, the company has started offering private events for organizations – I had the opportunity to attend one such even for an organization with which I am involved, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, which was extremely well organized and implemented.

So, whether it’s Dinner Lab or a similar organization, remember… everyone’s gotta eat!  Might as well do it in a way that connects you to others who also share an interest in food, drink and conversation!

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”  – Julia Child

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