Diner en Blanc: Parisian Pop-up Picnickining en Masse

Diner en Blanc New York 2012 setup at Lincoln Center Plaza.

It’s the afternoon rush hour in New York City. Most people are heading home. Thirty-two hundred others have made Superman-style changes into all-white outfits at their office building restrooms or the gym to attend Diner en Blanc (White Dinner), an elegant Parisian pop-up picnic held at a secret city location.

Meeting up outside of Starbucks at 60th and Broadway.

What started in 1988 in France as a modest outdoor soiree hosted by François Pasquier, has ballooned into an international phenomenon. The Paris edition now draws 15,000 guests. There are Diner en Blanc (D.E.B.) events celebrated in such places as Kigali, Rwanda; Sydney, Australia; and Barcelona, Spain will celebrate its first on September 13, 2012.

The first Diner en Blanc in New York happened in 2011. Then, 1,200 guests enjoyed an al fresco dining experience at the World Financial Center downtown. Over 30,000 people were on the waiting list and due to a computer glitch, some received false confirmations.

I was one of them.

Luckily, Diner en Blanc, as a way of apologizing, placed those who were accidentally sent confirmations on a priority list for the 2012 edition. For 2012, the organizers also expanded the numbers to include 3,200 guests.

And I got in this time, for real.

Arrival at the secret locale: Lincoln Center Plaza.

At the time of registration, you pay a membership fee of $4, which, if you follow the laundry list of D.E.B. rules, entitles you to an invite to future editions. This year New Yorkers dined under the stars and beside the fountain at Lincoln Center Plaza. The cost to dine is $25 per person and it is a B.Y.O.P (Bring Your Own Picnic) affair. Although, you can purchase food and alcohol — the rules state that you may not bring your own booze — from the organizers. However, the prices are high and the pickup lines long.

After convening outside a Starbucks, our table leader led us to the — what was still — secret locale. Music from the likes of Edith Piaf welcomed diners clad in white and carrying tables, chairs and picnic wares. This was followed by a live musical performance. At around 8:30 p.m., the sophisticated outdoor picnic turned into a dance party. Napkins were whirled around in the air, bubbles blown and the white balloons handed out earlier and tied to chairs began to float up into the night sky. A D.J. spun dance and disco hits.

Just before sunset, everyone settles in to the al fresco D.E.B. dining experience.

The evening ended at 10 p.m. to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and various kick lines popped up in the aisles between the rows of tables.

Philadelphia and Chicago celebrate their first pop-up D.E.B. picnics on August 23rd and 24th respectively.

If you’re attending a D.E.B. event soon, or hope to in the future, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A white (not cream, not ivory), elegant outfit
  • A folding square table + 2 white folding chairs (If you don’t have white chairs, cover with a cloth or slipcover.) (Ikea’s HÄRÖ folding table and chairs work well.)
  • A wheeled cart or small dolly for transporting the table and chairs (You can get this from Deals & Discounts, Ikea, Target, etc…)
  • A white bag or a white picnic basket (I got the Sutherland Yorkshire Picnic Basket for 2 from Picnicbaskets, through Amazon, and threw the white tablecloth between the handle to disguise its non-white wickerness.)
  • White tablecloth and 2 white cloth napkins

    All good things must end. New York’s Diner en Blanc 2012 wrapped up around 10 p.m.

  • Dinnerware: 2 large white plates, 2 dessert plates, 2 sets of cutlery, 2 glasses (no plastic) (The basket I purchased had small plates, so I borrowed larger plates from my roommates.)
  • Food and drink: A first course, cold main course and a cheese/dessert course, baguette/bread. (We had prosciutto and bread, followed by tabouleh as our main course and then strawberries and blueberries with brownies for dessert.) A bottle of water and soft drinks (Alcohol drinks are only available through the caterers.)
  • One trash bag
  • Centerpiece: bouquet and candles (From Michaels: white silk flowers, 2 tall votive candle holders and 2 flameless/electric tea lights, the flowers were placed in a white and orange Harney and Sons tea tin.)
  • In case of rain, purchase a Wedding Umbrella White Jumbo 68″ Golf Umbrella from the Golf Umbrella Store through Amazon, or directly.

Untapped Cities has great coverage of Diner en Blanc events in Paris and New York. There is also a terrific time-lapse video of D.E.B. New York 2012 on the site.


Diner en Blanc New York 2012 slideshow created using iPhoto.

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