Wednesday, March 17, 2010

City of Winter Park 9th Annual Dinner on the Avenue

The City of Winter Park's 9th annual Dinner on the Avenue event will be held on Park Avenue on April 17th from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. This highly regarded and highly anticipated event is hosted by the City of Winter Park which provides the locale (a closed-off Park Avenue between Morse and New England Avenues), the environment (round table and seating for 8 for the minimal charge of $100 per table), and the judges (for naming winners in the following categories: most colorful; most elegant; most original; best TV/movie theme) in order to provide a memorable, yet affordable, evening of fun for its residents while showcasing the beauty that is downtown Winter Park.  This year's event had 141 tables on offer and was sold out in 10 business days.

In order to gain some insight into the genesis and intent of this highly successful event, I sat down with Craig O'Neil, Assistant Director, Communications Department, City of Winter Park.  According to Craig, the initial thought was to have a social event with the following characteristics: anyone could participate; not for profit; low cost of entry (fee to cover rental of table and chairs, police, and street cleaning); and, no rain date (the rental company had to be paid regardless).

The event is owned and controlled by the City of Winter Park.  It began in the Purchasing Department but is now managed by the Dinner on the Avenue Committee which is made up of members from a number of City departments.  The committee meets monthly from the December prior to the event until the event is held. A number of organizations have approached the City about taking the event over and turning it into a charity event but the City has demurred fearing that affordability, and, as a result, access, would suffer if such a scenario were to unfold.

The event started out with 110 tables, expanded to 120, and, this year, will be 141 tables, the maximum that will be allowed by the Fire Marshall.  Odd-numbered tables are positioned at the north end of the event while even numbers are at the south end.  Attendees are expected to provide their own food, beverage, and table decoration.  Food could be prepared from home or sourced from one of the local restaurants.  There are a few restrictions to which attendees are expected to adhere: no open flames; do not go outside the parameters of your table; and, do not take alcohol off the avenue.  Decorating the tables begins at 6:00 pm and judging runs between 7:00 and 7:45 pm.

A judge is assigned to each end of the avenue to make the determination as to category winners.  This task has normally been assigned to Henry Maldonado and news anchor Jacqueline London.  Ms. London will be honeymooning at the time of this years' event and, as such, will be replaced by Laura Diaz, also of Channel 6.  Each judge is accompanied by a City representative who records the comments and remarks of the judge.  Category winners have their tables identified on site as well as having their names mentioned in a City-issued press release.  They also receive a ribbon to commemorate their win.

Last year the event added a food drive and that aspect of the program will be repeated this year.  The food drive benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank.  Attendees are asked to bring canned goods or money to donate to the drive.  Donations can be deposited at the event information booth.

One of the City's measure of the event's success is the speed at which the tables are sold out but they also want a fun evening with no incidents.

I attended this event for the first time last year and did not know what to expect going in.  I had a blast.  I am going back for more this year.  Do not let the fact that the tables are sold out deter you.  Go on the avenue and see the spectacle and then sit on the sidewalk seating areas of the local restaurants and have your own Dinner on the Fringe of the Avenue.  Dinner on the Avenue is a great spectator sport.

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