I am including several pictures. Click on any image to see a larger picture.
This dinner followed a long tradition. For more than twenty years, I have hosted a dinner at the end of most every NGS and FGS conference, as well as a few others. Twenty years ago, I managed the Genealogy Forum on CompuServe; so, the dinners in those years were referred to as the “CompuServe Dinners.” In later years, I left CompuServe and struck out on my own with the genealogy newsletter; so, the name was changed to the EOGN Dinners. However, the format remains the same: the dinners are a very informal affair with no agenda and very little planning. We simply go to a local restaurant for food, drinks, and camaraderie. However, the dinners have now become a problem.
In the “old days,” finding a restaurant wasn't much of a problem. After all, we typically needed to seat 15 or 20 people. I could go to most any city, ask local citizens about recommended restaurants, visit 2 or 3 of those restaurants on the first day or two of the conference, make arrangements at the last moment, and have a successful event.
The dinners have since become bigger with more attendees. With that, complexity has increased. This year, I made the reservations four months in advance and used an online reservations system to handle the increasing number of attendees. We were limited to 45 seats in the restaurant. If I had found a place with a larger seating capacity, I could have hosted 75 or more. Many people were disappointed to be turned away after the maximum of 45 had been reached.
The problem is finding restaurants that can handle larger crowds. To be sure, many restaurants can handle 75 or 100 people or more, often in private dining rooms. The difficulties lie in the details: (1.) the chosen restaurant must be within easy walking distance of the conference hotels or else be available on public transportation, (2.) the restaurant must provide good food at reasonable prices, (3.) the restaurant must be willing and able to seat a large private party on a Saturday night, and (4.) all of this needs to occur in a strange city that is unfamiliar to me and to most of the attendees. I have had difficulties finding such restaurants in the past and, as the crowds grow larger, the problem of identifying such restaurants also grows.
The quandary is: what do we do next time?
There are several possibilities. For instance, we can limit the number of attendees -- not a good solution, in my mind. Next, we can perhaps rent a function room in a hotel or some other place and have a catered dinner. (Most such places cannot offer ordering from a menu for crowds of that size. The typical scenario requires a fixed menu or possibly a few choices from a very limited menu.) I suspect that will ruin the spontaneity and informality that we have enjoyed in the past. In fact, the danger is that such dinners will become just another sponsored luncheon at the conference. I doubt if any of us want another such conference meal.
So, what should we do?
I need your input. Suggestions are welcome. I have created a survey that asks about your experiences, your preferences, and then includes a lot of text space for you to write your suggestions.
The next dinner will probably be held on August 21 in Knoxville, Tennessee, at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Any Knoxville residents who are familiar with restaurants near the Knoxville Convention Center are especially invited to offer suggestions for that dinner gathering.
If you could take a few minutes to fill out the survey and to write your suggestions, you may be able to make a big difference in future dinners. Please enter your comments there also. You can take the survey at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/eogn_dinners