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Across The Table: Uniting Chicago One Meal at a Time

By Katie Bijak | Friday, September 30, 2011

I just attended my first Across the Table dinner and I can’t wait to do it again. Across The Table is a non-profit organization that works to unite Chicagoans by encouraging them to come together to share a meal and conversation with each other. It is the inspiration of Lincoln Square resident Lauren Grossman who wanted to tackle Chicago’s persistent segregation between communities and people.

At the dinner I attended last week, eight strangers gathered at Ras Dashen, 5844 N Broadway Ave., to discuss what it means to have balance in our lives. After a couple of quick ice breakers we began talking and laughing as friends, sharing stories and giving advice. Much later, after the dishes were cleared and the checks paid, we still continued to chat as we gathered our things and walked out of the restaurant. I’m sure this is exactly what Lauren Grossman was hoping for when she decided to bring people together, “one meal at a time.”

Having grown up with a diverse group of friends, Grossman celebrates the richness that comes from knowing and developing relationships with people who are different from you. She says diversity “is something that I strongly value…without having friends from diverse walks of life, my life is missing something important.”

The first Across the Table dinner was in June 2009 and since then dinners have taken place at restaurants, cooking schools, art galleries and other event spaces all over Chicago. Each dinner is two and a half hours long, has a set topic and a facilitator to guide the conversation. Dinners are limited to 10 participants.

Dinner topics range all over the board from what it means to be an insider versus an outsider to how we define the concept of family or freedom to the topic of the dinner I attended: What it means to have balance in our lives.

My dinner at Ras Dashen was possible in partnership with another non-profit, ParentsWork, so I assumed when I signed up that I would dine with mostly parents who wanted to talk about how they balance children and work/life. Many people at the table were parents, but the facilitator, Marissa Burack, did a great job of keeping the conversation open and inclusive.

Creating and Enjoying Diversity

Grossman’s guiding principal is that no matter how similar people may seem, no two people are the same. Even two people who look exactly alike are likely to have very different experiences and opinions, so she does not ask any questions about age, ethnicity or religion when you register for a dinner.

In fact, Grossman says that she frequently receives questions about age expectations. “People often call me or email me and say, ‘I’m on the younger side or I’m a senior citizen, will I fit in?’ The answer to that question is a strong yes! Our groups are always extremely age diverse…if they weren’t our diners would miss out on the wonderful conversations that can take place across generations.”

There is an unofficial age minimum of 21 since many of the dinners have a BYOB option, but exceptions can be made based on the situation.

Participation Details

Dinners are $30 which includes a three-course meal. Participants who cannot afford the cost of the meal are encouraged to apply for a reduced-cost meal. You can find information on how to apply for a reduced-cost meal here.

Dinners are scheduled, on average, three times a month. Across the Table was on a hiatus this summer, but dinners started again in August. These dinners are listed online and you can sign up on the Across the Table website.

Registration is first-come/first-served, and topics and locations are set before registration begins for these dinners.

Do you have a topic you want to discuss? What to suggest a restaurant or location? Email Lauren at: info@acrossthetable.org.

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