Dallas Galas: Not Your Mother’s Banquet Food

As a donor and guest, have you ever decided to attend a philanthropic event based on the food to be served?  

How would you feel about attending a $1,000 per ticket gala that served Vienna Sausages, SpaghettiOs, and Natty Light?

It’s party season in Dallas, and, fingers crossed, philanthropic and social organizations will be able to carry out their carefully planned parties and galas without worrying about COVID cancellations.

Chairing a philanthropic event of any size is no small task. I’ve chaired a few myself and, depending on the occasion, have spent up to a year working with the beneficiary, its leadership, an event planner in some cases, and a multitude of vendors.

Oh, and then there is the real reason for the event: fundraising. Some philanthropists and organizations make it look easy to raise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in one event, but it’s not. However, there are perks.

In addition to the obvious benefit of supporting a cause you’re passionate about, it is fun to chair an event, and one great perk, say many former event chairs I consulted for this piece, is that you get to choose the menu.

Many large fundraisers are held at hotels, but that doesn’t mean the food is institutional. One of the season’s largest and most exquisite events is Crystal Charity Ball at the Hilton Anatole. The ballroom holds 1,500, and it’s a sell-out each year. I’ve attended the ball five times, and each time, the food was excellent; always beef tenderloin as the main dish and glorious hors d’oeuvres and desserts before and after.

Ashlie Lynch, The Mansion on Turtle Creek’s assistant director of events, has planned hundreds of events there and noted the typical sit-down event menus are chicken and salads for luncheons and strip steaks and The Mansion’s famous Tortilla Soup for evening events.

Carmen Hancock chaired the Jade Ball benefitting the Crow Museum of Asian Art at the Arts District Mansion, formerly known as the Belo. “They did an amazing job on menu options. We wanted an Asian flare to the menu, and they provided exactly what we wanted,” she said.

VNA Texas hosts its annual Celebrity Chef luncheon and dinner events every spring, featuring well-known chefs who preside while the Food Company caterer prepares and serves that chef’s recipes. This is the best “gala” food I’ve had, and it’s creative and memorable every time. VNA has booked Chef Martin Yan for the 2023 event, which will be a big foodie draw.

Does the menu matter more than the cause itself?

Certainly not. However, organizers want guests to attend and enjoy the event so they can become more engaged with the cause. Good food and beverage are part of the equation, keeping in mind that respecting donor funds is priority one. Dallas is one of the most philanthropic cities in the country; the parties are just the icing on the cake.

Kersten Rettig

Kersten Rettig is the only DFW Food/Travel writer with luxury hospitality leadership experience and a former restaurant owner, employee, and chief marketing officer. Kersten's worked on the inside and has the insight and experience to tell the stories to the outside. She's a Park Cities resident, mom, wife and a decent cook. Follow her on Instagram @KerstenEats.

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