About a week ago we received a release on an upcoming pop-up dinner from TableHost, a service we've written about before which aims to help you with hard-to-get reservations. The chef was Beverly Kim, of Aria/Top Chef/Bonsoirée 2.0 fame; the location was a private home in Lincoln Park; and the price was a jawdropping $250. Now, people charge $250 for fancy meals for charitable events, but the menus are usually much more elaborate than the relatively simple three-course menu we were sent, and it is a fact that you can attend quite spectacular one-off dinners for half or less of that at top restaurants all the time in this town. (Like this one, for instance, which was $75 for dinner.) The price was so high for what you were offered, in fact, that we didn't run anything on it, feeling pretty certain that it would never happen. And we were right about that; it was canceled a couple of days later. The official response was that that was due to logistical problems that came up, but we soon heard a different story from an unrelated party— that the event that was advertised wasn't at all the event that Kim signed up for... which she had priced at $45, not five times that. And, in fact, that it was an event that shouldn't have been advertised at all.
Kim says that TableHost approached her about doing a pop-up dinner, but she declined. "I'm not ready to do pop ups. I'm doing catered events because that's what you gotta do [between restaurant jobs], but a publicly announced pop-up is a very different thing. I wasn't comfortable doing that in a private home, you need a space. I wouldn't do it for just 14 people."
She says that she and TableHost agreed to a private holiday party, and she gave them a catering price, $45 per person plus hourly labor. She worked with them on the menu— "the owner of the home is gluten-intolerant, so I adjusted the menu to that. They didn't want a more Asian menu, so I did a very hearty, traditional winter meal."
Yet somehow the word went out away from TableHost that it was a public pop-up dinner— with tickets at $250. "I was just numb when I saw that price," Kim says. "I was embarrassed that people would think I would charge a price like that for a three-course meal. Plus, they put the wrong dessert in the announcement." After asking them how this announcement had gone out, she informed them that the dinner was canceled.
So how did her private $45 per person event become a $250 public dinner in TableHost's mind? Was it a massive miscommunication? Did somebody think they could pull a fast one (as a dot com survivor, we saw that kind of thing happen in startup cultures all the time)? "I don't know. They said they dropped the ball on copying me on some things, it was a miscommunication. But from the beginning I was clear that this was a private party, not a pop-up, not something that was supposed to be advertised."
In the meantime, Kim continues to cater events and even has... a collaboration dinner coming up in January. Which she's sure will be less than $250 a person.