The story goes that Frenchman François Pasquier hosted the first Diner en Blanc in 1988, when he invited friends to meet at a Paris park for an elegant outdoor dinner. He asked them to wear all white so those who didn’t know one another would recognize that they were part of the same group. Now, more than 30 years later, Diner en Blanc (DEB) is a worldwide phenomenon with annual events in nearly 60 countries around the world.
In the U.S., approximately 50 cities host a Diner en Blanc event each year. If you’ve ever attended, you are familiar with the mix of mystery and elegance that is the main attraction of any DEB event. And it starts with your DEB invitation, which typically arrives in a rather clandestine fashion.
The first DEB invitation for the husband and me started with a vague request from friends, who reached out to ask if we had plans on the date of the event, but never actually mentioned DEB. Instead, they just asked that we keep the date free and promised more information would be forthcoming. Clearly, these are good friends—you don’t just agree to an unexplained save-the-date with no questions asked.
About a week prior to the event they confirmed that this was indeed DEB. We were excited to attend, and had only a few days to assemble all white outfits as required by the event guidelines. Fortunately—or embarrassingly—the amount of white linen in our combined closets was enough for each of us to several attire options, so we were all set. Except we had absolutely no idea what the location was.
Worldwide, DEB events follow the same basic process. You’re provided with the event date a few days prior, but you don’t get the actual location until the last minute. In some cases, you’re not informed of the actual dinner venue at all. You only get the departure location for a bus that will take your group to an undisclosed dinner destination. And if you miss that bus, you’re out of luck.
Our inaugural DEB wasn’t quite as restrictive. The morning of the event we received a text with the dinner location and time, and by 6pm we were walking through an array of extravagantly decorated dinner parties in what was a simple public park 12 hours before.
As we made our way to our hosts’ dinner space, an interesting dichotomy became apparent. This was a very unique event. Many of the city’s residents were (and still are) completely unaware of DEB’s very existence. After all, you have to know someone in order to be invited. By every definition, this event was built on exclusivity. But the guests represented people from all walks of life. Young and old, black and white. Many guests were clearly wealthy. Many clearly were not. Some groups were conservative and preppy, others were flashy and avant-garde. But everyone was dressed in white from head to toe. More importantly, everyone was welcoming, greeting one another and happy to share the same space for the next few hours. And in that way, we shared a commonality which was refreshing.
Approaching our table, it was clear that our hosts had pulled out all the stops. Appetizers were circulating while the bartenders crafted gorgeous and effective cocktails for our group of 20. After about an hour we sat for dinner, served on china by a private caterer. And just before we enjoyed the first bite, we paused for the traditional napkin wave.
As we enjoyed our meal, we watched the other tables—more than 500 people, each at their own uniquely decorated all white dinner party. The summer air was warm, the wine was wonderful, the food was delicious, and the company was excellent. It was a good evening.
We walked back to our car with sunset at our backs. My feet were killing me (I should have brought flat shoes, but platform sandals seemed to make sense when I left the house hours earlier). We smiled and nodded at all manner of strangers as we passed, understanding that this camaraderie may not be the same if we shared an elevator or crossed on a city street the next morning. We were exiting the DEB bubble, heading back into reality. Fortunately, we enjoy our reality.
That was our first year at Diner en Blanc. Since then, we’ve attended with varied experiences depending on the location, the guests and (frankly) our mood. Will we attend again next year? Absolutely. I already have my white dress ready.
And my flat shoes.