Ronald McDonald House Benefit Takes Over Lincoln Park Zoo

Animal welfare played into the planning process for this year's Big Mac Under Glass gala, which took over the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Ronald McDonald clowned around with guests.

Photo: Sarah K. Bierman for BizBash

On Saturday, the Lincoln Park Zoo was home to the annual Big Mac Under Glass gala, which benefits the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. The fund-raising affair occupies a different venue each year, and according to Cathy Berk, manager of events at RMHC-CNI, the annual change-up is part of an effort to keep the gala “new, fresh, and to always raise the bar a little bit” in the season of competitive black-tie galas.

After Berk targeted the zoo—which was large enough for her 800-person guest list—she found herself faced with a slew of quirky house rules. For example, Berk wanted to have a drum quartet play as guests entered the zoo, to underscore the evening’s “wildest party in town” theme, but, as Berk learned, lions are frightened by the sound of drumming, so she had to work with zookeepers to ensure that the animals were kept inside during that part of the evening.

Though holding the gala in the company of wildlife meant making certain accommodations (in addition to the drumming specs, speakers had to face a certain way so as not to scare the animals, and all music had to be preapproved by zookeepers), Berk thought that the location complemented the kid-centric cause of RMHC-CNI. “When I think of zoos, and when I think of our charity, I think of children,” she said. “But I wanted our event to be classy at the same time as whimsical.”

To infuse the evening with that aesthetic balance, Berk took her design cues from the invitation's deep purple and orange tones. The decor, produced by Event Creative, reflected the hues with striped linens that draped lowboys at the cocktail reception and deep purple tablecloths that covered the dinner tables. In tribute to the venue (and its occupants), Food for Thought's dessert menu consisted of leopard-spotted cupcakes and black-and-white zebra cake.

In a final golden-arches-themed touch, servers hit the dance floor late in the evening to pass cheeseburgers while the band played “Cheeseburgers in Paradise.”

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