It was billed as Ireland's first Zoom Wine Dinner fundraiser.

Benefiting was the groundbreaking Queen's University Pathway Opportunities Programme which helps those students 'most-able but least-likely' to attend university get to Queen's by providing academic support and financial assistance.

Diners came mainly from the greater Belfast area but some truly socially-distanced patrons from as far away as Balbriggan and Buncrana also tucked in.

Not to mention the fact that some participants traversed half the world to join the Friday night intercontinental revelry hosted by the Belfast Tech Alliance — a loose grouping of tech companies keen to expand opportunities to communities across the city — in a bid to raise £10,000 for QUB bursaries.

Irish American Francis Schott, feted by Forbes as the father of the Zoom Wine Dinner experience, was patched in from New Brunswick, New Jersey (3,199 miles to the west) to chat with Marlborough, New Zealand winemaker James MacDonald (due south, 11,511 miles) of Hunters Vineyard whose wines were being enjoyed by the 90-plus guests. Hunters was established by Belfast expat Ernie Hunter in 1979, long before Marlborough, at the northern tip of Ateraroa's South Island, was regarded as one of the world's greatest wine regions. 

Salutations also came from Guadalajara, Mexico (5,347 miles to the southwest), where Unosquare CEO Giancarlo Di Vece, who, pre-Covid, was a regular visitor to the firm's Belfast offices, pledged support to QUB Vice-Chancellor Ian Greer's determination to increase the number of young people benefiting from the Pathway Programme.

In 2018, when the Vice-Chancellor took up his post, there were just 12 students on the programme. Today, that number stands at 112. In a pre-recorded video message to the event, Ian Greer said he hoped to raise £450,000 this year for the Pathway Programme students. "Thanks to generous philanthropic gifts, we have been able to support all Pathway students with a bursary in each year of their studies," he said. Support from Belfast's tech sector was helping to ensure that Queen's "can continue to truly transform lives," added the VC. 

Courtesy of Friday evening's global gathering, the Vice-Chancellor is £20,000 closer to his target - the £10,000 raised from the event was matched by the Community Foundation NI. Leading the tech businesses sponsoring the initiative were Anaeko, Aflac NI, Option Technology, Unosquare and Hanweck CBOE. Support also came from RealTime Recruitment, Hennessy, Oakland Holdings and the Belfast Media Group.

In the brave new world of Zoom dinners, there is no (ill-advised) retiring to the bar for post-prandial drinks, no midnight scramble to get a taxi and no tux to return the next day. But mixologist Francis Schott did insist on observing one tradition: a nightcap - in this case a Brandy Alexander complete with his very own video guide.

Planning has already begun for the 2021 fundraiser — kickstarted at Friday's dinner with a generous donation from Concentrix

A LONG WAY TO GO FOR A BITE: Giancarlo Di Vece Zooms in from Guadalajara, Mexico, to chat with the author during the virtual fundraiser

A LONG WAY TO GO FOR A BITE: Giancarlo Di Vece Zooms in from Guadalajara, Mexico, to chat with the author during the virtual fundraiser

Perhaps next year, pandemic permitting, we will meet in Hadski's Restaurant rather than have chef Niall McKenna (who Zoomed in to show how effortlessly each course could be beautifully presented - if you spent half your life in the restaurant trade) bring his tasty fare to our homes. 

But then we'd probably have to forego the craic and good company of James, Giancarlo and Francis and miss out on our around-the-world-in-eighty-minutes epicurean adventure. 

Unless, of course, we did both - simultaneously that is, courtesy of a strong digital connection in Hadskis, rather than one-after-the-other — though, post-Covid, we might just be ready for a double helping.