This year marked Jersey City's first Dîner en Blanc event and we were lucky enough to attend and cross this item off of our long term bucket list. Though Dîner en Blanc may be new to Jersey City, it's certainly not a stranger to many cities around the world with Paris celebrating its 34th anniversary this year, and New York, its 10th. As first time attendees, we had no idea what to expect but after our evening last night, we know that we'll be attending many years into the future, and hopefully in many more cities. Below is a compilation of all of the information about Dîner en Blanc that we wished we had known.
What is it?
In its most simple terms, Dîner en Blanc is an "exclusive" dinner shared amongst hundreds to thousands of invited participants dressed in all white. In Dîner en Blanc's own terms, it's an event in which "...Thousands of people, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, all meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space".
The Nitty Gritty:
For those curious to know a bit more, Dîner en Blanc began in Paris in 1988 when François Pasquier wanted to reconnect with old friends after being away from France. Given that he didn't have the space to host everyone, he suggested they all meet up in a public park wearing white (to easily find one another) and all to bring a friend (to meet new people). The tradition in France continued, evolved + grew each year for 20+ years before expanding to additional cities. Though the idea was originally inspired by high French society, it has since grown into a worldwide event celebrated each year by hundreds of cities and thousands of individuals across the world as guests come together from diverse backgrounds to enjoy the camaraderie and magic of the event. Participants meet up to dine together in a location that is held secret until shortly before the event begins. Regardless of the city, the location each year is typically one that is rich in a city's culture + history, and closed off to disruptions: no car or pedestrian traffic from non-invited participants. Diners bring and set-up their own table, chairs, dishes, etc. in a flash-mob style that will have an entire public space transformed into an elegant dinner for thousands in minutes, and just as easily cleaned up without a trace when everyone heads home.
How is it pronounced?
We don't know. Kidding, but not really. What we can confidently share is that it's definitely not pronounced like the Tri-State Area's beloved around-the-clock dining establishments, known of course as "diner". The speaker at the event pronounced it as "den-ay on bluh-on-ck". Next time we cross paths with a native French speaker we'll ask them + report back to you.
Where is it?
Dîner en Blanc takes place each year in 90+ countries and continually growing. From France, Africa + Canada to Australia, Japan, Haiti, the US and more - there's truly no shortage of cities hosting this event. Check their website to see where the closest host city is to you! The actual meet-up space in each city will differ every year and by every place. Jersey City's 2022 event was hosted in Lincoln Park.
When is it?
Dîner en Blanc takes place on different dates + months worldwide but given the nature of the event taking place outdoors, it's typically held in warmer weather months depending on each location's climate. Jersey City's event took place on August 25, 2022 from ~ 5 -10:30PM (the official event occurred between 7-10PM) New York City's event is upcoming on September 19th, 2022. Again, check the site of your city of interest for specific details.
Do you have to pay to attend?
Yes. Cost per person will range by city, membership and food/drink options but tickets are only sold in two-guest options, meaning you cannot buy a ticket for only one person. For Jersey City, the cost started at $90 (for two people) and did not include food or drink. Once registered as an attendee, you have an option through your member portal to add food + drink options to pick up onsite but we weren't enticed by any. Truthfully, prior to the event we couldn't imagine what the cost involved could possibly have gone towards considering we were supplying our own food, drinks, table, etc. but we were provided with charter bus service to/from the event, live music, DJ, photographers, performers, photo booths, etc. which makes $45/person seem more feasible. We did however need to purchase white outfits, a table, chairs, and the like which added to the total cost and definitely something that we wish we had known before giddily registering and breezing through all the directions.
What happens at it?
At its core, it's essentially a large party / social gathering that largely reflects all of the fun aspects of a large wedding or Bar Mitzvah, but for more detailed expectations, the event can be broken down into sections: Arrivals, Set-Up, Dinner, Dancing + Socializing, Departure.
Depending on your city and necessary mode of transportation, you'll likely start out the evening by heading to your designated meeting spot to find your group + table leader, boarding transportation and heading towards your destination.
Once you arrive, you'll be directed to your designated table assignment to begin setting up your space. Each group had a designated row A-Z+ and letter to accompany it - we were seated at G5, meaning that we began setting our table up at the fifth table in row G. You're instructed not to begin eating until everyone has arrived + set-up their spot which will likely take between 30 minutes to an hour, so consider eating beforehand. At this time those who pre-ordered catering and beverages can pick them up from the onsite vendor.
The waving of napkins in the air will officially mark the start of dinner for all attendees. Once dinner kicks off you'll have about an hour+ to indulge yourself. It's advised to bring an appetizer, entree and dessert, and we feared that not doing so would somehow leave us at a disadvantage, but we learned that mealtime is all one indistinguishable chunk of time (~ 7:15 to 8:30) so there's no real need to bring multiple courses unless desired or preferred. It was also during this section that live music performers entertained guests. We recommend taking a break from eating to explore some of the activities that are likely to garner a long wait, like the photo booths, during this time and get ahead of the crowds.
Dancing + Socializing
The second half of the evening - dancing + socializing - is officially kicked off by the sparkler lighting ceremony. This was our favorite part of the night as it felt truly magical + breathtaking to see so many people share in excitement and astonishment at the same time. Following the last sparklers sparkle, the dance floor with DJ will open and guests are encouraged to dance, mingle and partake in the photo booths + activities. This lasted about an hour and a half from 8:30 - 10.
Around 10PM the last song will play and attendees will begin schlepping their tables, chairs, etc. back onto the busses to head home and reflect on the wonderful night that was had.
What to Pack | The Essentials
All attendees will need to bring the following (you'll be given comprehensive instructions once registered to the event as well, through your member portal). The linked items are not sponsored but provided as the cheapest + best options that we could find to bring ourselves.
- White Outfit: if you do not already own a pure white outfit (shoes included) you'll need to get one
- Square Table: loved the cheap price + easy transport/storage of this one. The table itself does not need to be white but it will need a white tablecloth, regardless.
- White Chairs: the chairs do not need to be white but will require white coverage if not. These were super lightweight and easy to carry.
NOTE: some cities have begun offering table + chair rental packages so keep your eyes out
- Bag: does not need to be white but will require white coverage if not.
- White Linen Tablecloth: cannot be plastic, must be white
- White Linen Napkins: cannot be disposable, must be white
- Plates: cannot be plastic, must be white, embellishments OK
- Glasses: cannot be plastic, clear OK
- Utensils: cannot be plastic, OK to not be white
- Water: there will not be water bottles onsite unless pre-ordered, bring water + lots of it
- Food: there will not be food onsite unless pre-ordered, pack a picnic, bring a pizza, make a sandwich, etc. We got takeout from a local Italian restaurant consisting of Burrata Crostini, Cacio e Pepe, Fettuccine Alfredo and Tiramisu.
- Drink: there will not be drinks onsite unless pre-ordered, you cannot BYOB but may bring non-alcoholic drinks
- Lighter: you'll need a lighter to light your sparklers
- Trash bag: you'll need a trash bag to take home + dispose of any of your trash (which should be minimal given focus on non-disposable goods)
Admittedly, we did see a few people breaking some of the lesser important rules (i.e. black bag, plastic cups) and some of the folks seated near us shared that they regularly attend these events and their trick is to always bring disposable plates, utensils, cups, etc. and they've never had an issue doing so. Regardless, the intent of these rules is to provide a respectful, sustainable and elegant experience enjoyed by all so as long as you keep those values in mind, you'll have no issue.
What to Pack | The Nice to Haves:
- Hand truck: probably the most necessary of the unnecessary items is a lightweight, folding hand truck that will help you easily transport your items (you could easily be walking for long stretches, hilly areas, etc.) and which folds down to fit under your table. We loved this option as it was lightweight, tight and compact and got the job done. Is it 100% necessary to have a hand truck? No... but at what cost?
- Decorations: People really got into decorating their spaces, though it's not necessary
- Lights: String Lights were a common decoration addition to many spaces
- LED Candles: were another common way people safely + elegantly decorated their spaces
- Umbrella: you will need a clear or white umbrella if it rains as the event will go on rain or shine
- Cooler: though not necessary, you'll be much
- Fan: If it's slated to be super hot out, you may want to bring a battery operated fan to help you keep cool, you will not be allowed to leave the event early so being prepared to stay for the entire thing is important
- Head wear: hats and headgear are encouraged, join in on the fun!
- Flowers: either real or fake, it does not matter, adding flowers to your table is the best way to make it look elegant and beautiful
- Bug Spray: something we wish we had
- Sunglasses: self explanatory
What to Wear:
Elegant, comfortable + pure white attire is needed for this event. The only color you are allowed to wear aside from white, is gold + silver accessories, otherwise, you should be decked out in elegant white from head to toe.
Something We Wished We Had Known:
People really go all out and have FUN with it. This is not "some little event" but a HUGE outing that people plan well in advance for. There's a LOT of background planning and logistics that must go into these events as there was heavy police presence protecting the scene, lighting, and many other additions we never would have thought would be considered.
How to Attend:
The trickiest part of attending Dîner en Blanc is figuring out how to get an invite to the event yourself. Aside from the personal logistics and planning that must go into arranging everything you'll need to bring + wear, plus trying to organize and coordinate sitting with your friends, securing a ticket in the first place will be no easy feat. The event is invite-only and some cities have wait lists of upwards of a hundred thousand people. Tickets are sold in phases that open for purchasing at different times.
- Phase 1: invites for purchasing tickets will open up to close friends of the organization, its leaders, previous attendees/members and volunteers (volunteers attend for free, act as table leaders and have invitations of their own)
- Phase 2: friends invited by those in Phase 1 open up
- Phase 3: remaining tickets open to those on the waiting list in first come first served format. You will have a window to register for tickets, which you'll likely be alerted to the evening before.
- To get on the waiting list, sign up on the website of the respective city in which you'd like to attend
Once registered, you will begin receiving communications regarding the event and all of its details, starting with what you'll need to prepare, then the date and time (but not exact location) of the year's event and finally some last reminders + details. You will not know the exact location of the event until your bus arrives at it or you're given walking instructions.
There will be several meeting locations around your city to choose from, and they will be subject to selling out based on availability. There will also be one group leader for each location, in addition to many bus/table leaders. You will need to know these details when purchasing your tickets, especially if trying to purchase to sit with others as you'll need to all use the same leaders + departures to ensure sitting together.
This experience is unlike anything we've experienced and totally blew our expectations out of the water (though admittedly they were pretty low to begin with). We're definitely not a pro here as first time attendees so be sure to look to you local site for all updated + relevant information, but as advocates for "putting a little disco in the details" the Dîner en Blanc event TOTALLY hits the mark and we strongly suggest giving it a go.