Sky-high restaurant dangles diners 180 feet up in the air
Is Dinner in the Sky a gimmick? Not to the Las Vegas entrepreneur who purchased exclusive U.S. rights. She’s spending $5 million to hoist guests up a 200-foot permanent tower. Best view ever? For sure.
How do you serve dinner to 44 guests, each harnessed in a chair on one of two seven-ton platforms—hoisted 180 feet in the air and dangling so high the restaurant requires clearance from the FAA?
“You can’t forget the salt,” quips Janeen Hinden, the Las Vegas owner of Victoria’s Wedding Chapel and a catering and event-planning firm who purchased exclusive rights to build Dinner in the Sky franchises in the United States.
Prep space is limited for Dinner in the Sky chefs, this one in Toronto. Janeen Hinden plans a $5-million permanent version of the crane-and-a-table franchise, first in Las Vegas.
She plans five at $5 million each over three years if she can attract the investors, with construction underway on the first set to open in Vegas by September. Next up is San Diego, Miami’s South Beach, Hawaii and New York.
And yes, she does have the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing for her Las Vegas location, just off the strip near CityCenter. “We had to put lights on the tower so aircraft could spot us,” she says.
Hinden is building a permanent version of the outlandish attraction created by two Belgian friends, one a publicist and the other a crane operator. Their Dinner in the Sky franchise is dangling from a crane in more than 40 countries.
Diners fork over up to $500 a head to eat where absolutely no one can beat their view—or brag about a loftier night out. “Dinner in the Sky is for sure a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” writes David Ghysels via email.
Ghysels, the co-founder, owns a marketing agency in Brussels called Hakuna Matata (that means “no worries”) and many years ago wanted to celebrate his daughter’s birthday in the air. In 2006 he was introduced to Stefan Kerkhofs, who knew his way around heavy equipment and had started a bungee-jumping company as well as an event firm called the Fun Group.
Ghysels writes they like to sign an exclusive agreement with a single partner in each country, “reliable, responsible and fully dedicated to the two Dinner in the Sky gold words: safety and exclusivity.” Why did they choose Hinden for their U.S. partner? “Because she totally fits the profile we are looking for.”
Diners enjoy the view over Amiens, France. Bathroom breaks are best saved for before or after the hoist, but in emergencies the platform can be lowered. (Photos courtesy of Dinner in the Sky.)
Not everyone thinks Dinner in the Sky has staying power. “I get vertigo just looking at the images,” says Kip Clayton, an executive with Parasole Restaurant Holdings in Minneapolis, at the time sitting atop one of his restaurant’s rooftop bars and asked whether dining from a crane could be considered the next escalation in the race for ever-more-wonderful experiences.
Scoffs David Shea: “That’s a gimmick. That’s a fad. That’s not a sustainable operation.” He’s an architect with the design firm Shea Inc. who built his own fabulous feature—a 2,000-square-foot retractable roof—at Union restaurant in Minneapolis. “That’s more of a novelty than a business model, let’s call it that.”
Hinden and her husband, now deceased, met Ghysels and Kerkhofs at an amusement park conference in Orlando four years ago, where they were exhibiting Dinner in the Sky, and hit it off. “I went up on it, I fell in love with it, and I had to take it home. It’s so different and so unique,” Hinden says.
The trip soothed her concerns about safety, the biggest worry for most would-be sky-high diners, not to mention the insurance companies that operators must sign on. “I’m personally afraid of heights. Going up on this, I really wasn’t afraid at all,” she says. “We went out there and said ‘Wow, this is a phenomenal way to do dinner.’ ”
At first they simply purchased a license for the table-and-crane idea. But when Hinden couldn’t get clearance from OSHA for a crane, she and her husband decided to go one better. They spent $1.5 million over several years to research and design a permanent structure with a 200-foot tower.
“There’s a lot of things we had to change, to meet building codes and FAA codes.” The biggest challenge was designing a linking system to hoist the tables. “Oh my God, a lot of pain, a lot of money,” she says when asked how they ultimately succeeded.
When opened, their Dinner in the Sky will be one of a kind, she says. They’ll have two platforms going up and down every hour and a half all evening, plus a tapas restaurant, meeting space and lounge area on the ground that can hold 300 people. Directly underneath the platforms is an off-limits safety zone, “in case someone drops a fork,” she says.
They tested the concept with a temporary structure for four months, with one crane and one table. “The demand was incredible” for the test, and they tweaked the model to include a place for guests to hang out after their meal. “Usually when you go out to dinner you don’t talk to the people next to you. When people go up on this, they come down with 21 new friends,” she says.
She will insist on high-quality food, with as much prep work as possible done on the ground beforehand—and careful planning to ensure nothing, not even the salt shaker, is left behind. “Food is very, very important to us,” she says. “We want phenomenal food, and being 180 feet in the air is just an added bonus.”