Setting the Scene
A month ago I got an e-mail from a good friend asking if I wanted to attend the “White Dinner” picnic in Zurich on the 3rd of August. While thinking about it, I logged onto Facebook and saw that the event was advertised there. The pictures looked wonderful, the concept unique and many friends had said they were going. I’m the kind of guy to make a spontaneous decision and after checking my calendar, I thought, yes, I want to be part of this beautiful event.
Your track record determines others expectations
After quite a few e-mails between the group of friends, we bought a table for 10 people. I wasn’t quite sure what was included in the price, and didn’t worry about it too much. Worst case scenario we had to buy food and drink, best case it was provided. Already here, there was a potential of being clearer. I would suggest this be put on the webpage under a simple and easy to read table/chart. The location was also not clear, but with the pictures from Berlin in years past, we thought for sure it would be in Zurich at the lake (China Garden) or maybe Lindenhof or Irchel Park. No worries though, for 59 CHF / Person we knew we’d be in for a treat. When I read most of the unfriendly and frankly irrational comments of many complaining about the event, what is clear is that the past locations of the White Dinner in other cities set very high expectations for where it would be held in Zurich.
Not exactly in Zurich City
A week before the event I saw on Facebook again that the location would be at the Rennbahn (Racetrack) in Dielsdorf. This is not too far from my part of the city, but isn’t really Zurich city either. Not a bad location though, a horse race track is often quite beautiful and Dielsdorf is a few minutes with the S-Bahn. It did however change my expectations of the event. Added to that was the first article about the event in the NZZ. While I found accusations of the event being a ripoff to be exaggerated in a city where restaurants get away serving tap water for 3.50 a liter to otherwise paying guests under the guise of donating 2.00 francs to charity, the fact that the organization only put in for a permit for the event a mere few weeks before the event shoes a lack of planning. A person n the ground in Zurich and in every city the group hopes to have their is necessary. That the rules are the rules and businesses cannot, with short notice, have huge swaths of a public park for their use is understandable. However, even here one could argue that concert venues like open airs do just that. In short, the OC needed someone in Zurich organizing and things and working with the city earlier, but a horse race track a mere 10km from the city centre is not a scandal, in fact it’s a beautiful location.
It’s not a Ripoff, it’s a business
Regarding the accusations of being a ripoff, I fully support the OC in their statement, that, yes, they are a company looking to make profits. It takes a lot of people and time to organize such an event and they need to be paid. As an event organizer myself, I know exactly the labour, time, and resource costs of putting together even smaller conferences and events. There are also risks, such as deposits that might not be returned and not finding enough guests. Because events are such a great place to do marketing the cost to attendees is often vary little, as large sponsors foot the majority of the bill. Being bombarded by advertising in our modern lives we simply fail to acknowledge that companies often pay huge sums for the right to flurry us with their logos. The Oper für Alle was an example of this. It was wonderfully done, a brilliant experience that I enjoyed greatly, but it was sponsored by Zurich Insurance and the thousands of chairs selling for 15 francs a piece with the Zurich logo on it helped make that clear. The White Dinner is meant to be elegant and communal. Would logos, banners, posters, trinkets and such everywhere be appropriate? No, it would degrade the event some to a marketing stunt from a bigger company trying to get people to buy their product or at least increase brand awareness. Paying for goods and services directly in cash and making money is honest and fair. At least you know what you’re getting and you can demand something for it. (Read “What Money can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel for a more indepth study of the omnipresence of advertising.)
One last thought on the claim that it’s a ripoff. A ripoff is when I’m put in a situation where I have little choice and then made to pay a much higher than normal price. An example is not being allowed to take drinks through airport security, and on the other side having to pay 1-2 francs more for a bottle of water. That is taking advantage, of travellers and is a ripoff. This event, by its nature can’t be a ripoff because anyone buying a ticket has the option not to attend and not pay. If you think I want to be there and pay 60 francs for it, then that is your choice. Some people buy 100 franc bottles of wine, and some people buy 4 franc bottles of wine. Value for money (Preis Leistung) often comes down to the individual.
Communication is Nr. 1
This brings me to the communication element of White Dinner. The concept behind White Dinner is very simple and the website needs to reflect that. Confusion quickly ensued via Facebook as to what was included in the price of a ticket and what was going to happen. Already on July 12th an interested person had asked on Facebook what the plan was should it rain. As an event organizing company, information needs to be clearly communicated to attendees. Facebook is not a good place to relay this type of information. Facebook allows too many people to engage and causes information to be lost in such cases. Perhaps the folks at Facebook will come up with a better event organization platform, but for now an event website is best with e-mail and/or text updates is best. Here is a rough sketch of what it should look like:
The OC of the While Dinner suffered through a barrage of hateful comments and bad reports when they decided to make a judgement call on postponing the event so that the spirit of it would be held – that is a fancy picnic in beautiful surroundings. Having a picnic on a parking lot in the rain is not that. The call to postpone it was smart and those who will take part on the 10th of August will surely have a great experience. My disappointment came from calls from people writing things like “Go back to where you came from, we don’t want you here anyway.” These comments are ignorant and make the rest of us Swiss look bad – a real shame. I wish people would think twice before posting on public forums. The other thing that disappointed me was the second NZZ article that there are plans to organize a free White Dinner at the lake. While I believe that people can organize quickly and cheaply thanks to the internet, those hoping for a White Dinner of the quality you will get in Dielsdorf are mistaken. Furthermore, I believe this is merely an attempt of someone trying to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune.
I wish the organizers of the White Dinner much success. Myself and my friends look forward to dining with others in the August sun and enjoying good company, great food and fantastic wines. I also hope that people see the work it takes to organize and event and why it can’t be free if it’s going to be truly organized. I also hope that future event organizers stop using Facebook, at least at the moment for event communication. Use it for marketing and shut off comments.