A few weeks ago I received my first invitation to attend Dîner en Blanc (DEB). I knew what it was based on photos I would see pop up on my friends’ timeline in previous years towards the end of the summer. Or at least I thought I knew what it was. It was a huge “white party” at an outdoor location where thousands of people gathered for dinner, adult spirits, dancing and fellowship. After experiencing my first Dîner en Blanc this weekend I have to say that perception was mostly accurate. But boy is it so much more to it than that.
I thought once I received the invite, I would pay the fee, find my white outfit for the event and arrive on the designated day ready to be served and fed at this pop up outdoor restaurant. Not quite. I quickly learned that DEB is all about creating your own experience. I’ll get to what that looks like in a minute.
Upon receiving the invitation I quickly realized the exclusivity of it all. You cannot attend unless you are invited by a previous guest or someone who is defined as a group, pedestrian or table leader. You cannot just go to a web site, pay your money and participate, well unless you get on a 20K+ waitlist depending on the city. This is one of the draws of the event.
After doing some research I found that DEB originated in the late 80’s, when a French man wanted to host a dinner party but didn’t have the space. So he invited friends to a large public park in Paris and told them to wear all white, so they could identify each other. That epic idea turned into a now worldwide event in 70 cities every year. The one I attended in my hometown of Washington, D.C. is in its fourth year.
So back to creating your own experience. After receiving the invite, I went to a web portal where I was given a list of instructions and guidelines for the event. I never knew dinner could be so complicated and detailed. But I quickly learned why. Each participant is expected to bring their own tables, chairs, linens, decorations, silverware, plates, and yes food. Wait what? Now why do I, or anyone for that matter, want to do this again? Lol. I almost declined the invitation, but something told me to try it.
I resisted the urge to complain about the whole experience because after all, I made the choice to attend – no one forced me. And since I paid my $49 to attend I was going to make the most of it. What exactly am I paying for if I have to bring literally everything, I asked myself. I read my long list of guidelines and found it covers the costs of making the event happen – permits for use of public space and amenities such as security, DJs and porta-potties, etc. Ok fine, whatever.
I opted to go the basic route. I did not buy a new outfit, I did not buy any decorations (I used what white accessories and tea light candles I could find at home), and I made a homecooked meal that would be easy to transport in a cooler I already had. Fortunately, the only thing my date and I had to buy was the tablecloth and chairs. Winning!
Now for the experience itself. I must also note that you are not informed of the location of the event until the day of the event, only the meeting location of your group. Upon learning of the location, you either have plans to walk or take public transportation. Wait, what? I’m expected to walk in my nice white outfit with tables and chairs and decorations and food? Sideye.
It actually wasn’t that bad, but there has to be some planning that goes into place on how you and your table partner are going to get all of what you need to the destination. It takes coordination for sure.
Once we arrived and got our tables set up, I must admit, it was quite an experience. I was not quite prepared to see all the ways in which people go out for this event. The incredible outfits, elaborate decorations and intricate designs of group tables were amazing. I found that it was almost as much of an art show as it was a dinner gathering.
As the event was happening I finally got why the event was a draw for people. As I sat at my little table immersed in a sea of white in the middle of Pennsylvania Ave staring at the U.S. Capitol and laughed and exchanged toasts and smiles with my friends and danced around with our sparklers, I had a moment to take it all in. It was about the experience. It was beautiful. And we had created it all.
You also get to connect with some pretty interesting people who you may not otherwise have an opportunity to meet. I actually came across a woman who attends three to four DEB events around the world every year. She was just coming from the Baltimore DEB, which she highly recommended because it was more intimate than the D.C. event, which hosted 4,500 people this year. She was on her way to the one in Hawaii that coincided with a work trip. I can’t say that humping all of my materials around from city to city is attractive to me but hey, to each his own!
Some things to note about Dîner en Blanc, if you have the opportunity to attend.
The guidelines stated that you could not bring in outside alcohol and you are required to purchase wine at the event. But in doing so, you are subjected to an extremely long line to pick up the wine you purchased online. I stood in line for 40 minutes waiting for my wine. It made me wish I had just brought some from home, especially since security did not check our coolers going in.
If you are one of those who wants to create an elaborate table and get ideas about what to bring and the most effective way to do it, there are plenty of Pinterest profiles and suggestions within the Dîner en Blanc available for you to peruse.
I can’t say that I ever need to go back and if I do, ever be as elaborate as some of my fellow DEB participants were, but it was certainly something to experience. And if there’s anyone who’s looking to get out of their rut of doing the same ol’ thing each summer and do something different, this will certainly satisfy your appetite!