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Dinner in the Sky lifts you off your feet
2015-12-23
By Zhou Yubin

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Although I was seated at a dinner table with another 21 guests, there wasn’t any conversation. Nobody talked, and nobody cared to look at the menu, or comment on the beautiful sunset that was imbuing the ocean with hues of dark orange. What was happening around and below our feet was far more exciting. In awe, we watched as our dinner table was slowly lifted up by a crane to take us to a dinner experience in the sky. Although we were all properly “tied up” in our seats, some couldn’t help but to feel nervous as we smoothly ascended, meter by meter.

Once we reached the proper height — 50 meters above sea level — the platform was fixated and our nervousness settled.

The past minutes had been dedicated to our smartphones as we all wanted to record how we were being taken up, but now, it was time to lift our heads to take in the magnificent view of the sun setting over the South China Sea on Hainan island. As the table slowly rotated to allow every guest a 360 degree view, I was also able to see Raffles Hainan Resort, the organizer of our Dinner in the Sky event, from above. Its tropical landscape and lush gardens along the white sand beach provided a great backdrop for the view.

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It was stunning, and knowing that very few people have been lucky enough to enjoy a similarly exciting dinner gave me just one more reason to be amazed.

Dutchman David Ghysels who was running a PR and marketing agency first came up with Dinner in the Sky about 10 years ago. Quote literally, he intended to take the F&B experience to a new level. Ghysels got German crane expert Stefan Kerkhof on board. Kerhof hails from a family with three generations’ experience in the crane business. While Ghysels had the dream, Kerkhof was responsible for realizing it. Safety was of utmost concern. Kerkhof decide to use a large crane capable of hoisting up to 120 tons for lifting the platform, 22 guests, three chefs and one security inspector, all together weighing about a quarter of the maximum weight.

Independent experts at TÜV Rheinland gave the project a German safety certification, and thus the pie in the sky was within reach. After the world premier in Belgium in 2007, the duo received phone calls from across the globe. Demand to recreate the “most unique dining experience in the world” was overwhelming, and Ghysels and Kerkhof decided to franchise the project.

Today, Dinner in the Sky has traveled to more than 50 countries across the globe, and has been an attraction for adrenaline junkies in cities like London, Dubai, Lisbon, Cape Town, Istanbul and Las Vegas. Product launches, press conferences, board meetings and weddings are now also part of the franchise.

Last year, Dinner in the Sky debuted on mainland China at Shanghai’s Four Seasons Hotel Pudong — a major success, said Damian Niesel, managing director for Events in the Sky’s Asia operations.

“Dinner in the Sky is an exclusive experience. After Shanghai at the Four Seasons, we had a lot of inquiries,” he said. But instead of choosing Shanghai as a permanent location, Niesel said that the company was looking for a place that would allow for year-round operations. “We want to be very selective to provide our customers the best venue, the best environment and the best catering experience. And of course in winter, north China is very cold, so Hainan was a natural choice. Raffles Hainan turned out to be the most extraordinary venue for us,” he said.

Upon customers’ requests, the resort can arrange for the table to be hoisted in the sky up to five times a day — breakfast, lunch, high tea and two dinners are available through the end of February. The price ranges from 999 yuan (US$161) for breakfast to 3,999 yuan for dinner.

Dinner in the Sky is frequently listed among the world’s most unusual restaurants and has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, making it the perfect event for Raffles to set the resort apart from other hotels in Sanya, where competition for luxury guests has become fierce.

Before we started, some among our group voiced concern over the height, and we were reassured that the table would be taken back down if someone should really feel unsafe or unwell. But the combination of the unique view over the tranquil beach of Clearwater Bay, the subtle music and the food accompanied by a great selection of wine and cocktails put all of us at ease, and a vivid conversation soon centered around the dishes.

That the five-course, Italian-style dinner was precooked and only received a finishing touch in the sky was barely noticeable. The beetroot salad with walnut dressing and homemade goat’s cheese, the tomato gazpacho with caviar and the ham with codfish were excellent in taste and choice of ingredients.

Ugur Talayhan, Raffles Hainan’s general manager, said that Raffles was proud and delighted the Dinner in the Sky is available for its guests. “This unique lifestyle concept offers our guests a truly memorable experience during their stay and will also go further in promoting Hainan,” he said.

As most Dinner in the Sky experiences are set in bustling cities, Niesel said that he was also pleased with the beautiful beach location, which set it apart. “Here you can swim like a fish in the morning and fly like a bird in the evening,” he said.


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