Dîner en Blanc is like no other dinner party, and the September 14 New York City event was not only the thrill it always promises to be, but one that became an unprecedented experience. It marked the first time in the event’s NYC decade-plus history that it took over city streets. Every time thousands of people dress in white for this event and descend upon the always secret location, it is beautiful and dramatic—picture a sea of people at Lincoln Center, Brookfield Place, Bryant Park, to name a few—but those locations are created solely for pedestrians. This year’s secret location was the streets of the Meatpacking District, and so, Dîner en Blanc NYC 2023 literally stopped traffic.
Amidst the neighborhood’s hotels, restaurants, and shops, 4,000 decked out attendees dined together in what became a Dîner en Blanc for the books. The weather was show-off perfect with clear skies, mild temperatures, and just a little breeze as the sun went down. The 2019 and 2022 events saw a bit of rain but there was not a poncho or umbrella in sight at the 2023 party.
What there was, was an electric backdrop of lights, brick buildings, elaborate table settings, and performers amidst the cobbled Meatpacking District streets. And, although there are key moments during the dinner, when everyone sits to wave napkins signaling the start of dinner, or mingles with new friends to the left and right, the 2023 event had everyone up and out of their seats dancing in the middle of the streets, and wrapped in a glow that only this event could muster. And it wouldn’t be a grand New York event without a dash of Broadway. Soloists Margot Siebert and Allison Blackwell got everyone in the party spirit. The city made it happen, and it was a giant feat to orchestrate. Even New York City’s mayor Eric Adams, came by and was donned in white to show support for the momentous night.
A Little History
In 1988 François Pasquier and a few friends organized a dinner party in Paris. As this was well before cell phones, the internet, or social media, they decided to wear white in order to add a little elegance to the atmosphere for their dinner party but more importantly, to be able to find each other in Bois de Boulogne Park. The group had so much fun that they continued every year until the Paris experience grew to 1,000 guests. Now, the Dîner en Blanc in Paris hosts approximately 10,000 guests every year. In 2018, a record 17,000 guests from around the world gathered at the Esplanade des Invalides to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the historic experience. The iconic white dinner party now occurs on six continents, in 68 cities worldwide, and 46 in the United States alone. Over 4,000 guests attended the NYC event, and there are apparently 70,000 on the waiting list; and, according to Le Dîner en Blanc International, there are one million people on waiting lists worldwide.
Jeffrey LeFrancois, the Executive Director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District and Sandy Safi, the cofounder and president of Dîner en Blanc worldwide, were on hand at the event to celebrate with diners, talk to press, and remind everyone that this incarnation of the international event makes history. It certainly did not happen overnight; it was years in the making, LeFrancois said, “This is definitely a dream realized.”
This historic event expands the view on what an event venue can be. For years, Paris has been testing the boundaries and now New York can say the same. As a long time attendee, Le Francois notes, “We wanted to show off the city and prove what could be done in its neighborhoods,” LeFrancois said. “It’s so important to rethink how we use the space outside, and that’s what we focus on down here,” The vision had to be clear and the the powers that be needed to clearly understand what it meant for residents and businesses, not to mention the city’s infrastructure. “We needed to get the city to see that this could be a great partnership and we should try to make this happen. It took a lot of trust and faith and desire to do something new on city streets that hasn’t been done before.
The Philadelphia Dîner en Blanc knows a little bit about pushing boundaries of what’s possible. The northeast chapter has grown to be the largest incarnation of the event in the country tipping to just over 5,000 attendees. Dîner en Blanc enthusiast, Jasmin Moraza, joined DEB Philly in 2013, just a year after the first one was held in the city. It didn’t take long before she was hooked. 2023 actually marks her tenth anniversary celebrating the iconic event; and, she’s been a table leader since 2019. When asked about how the roles compare, Moraza mentioned, “Honestly, being a table leader just feels natural. Over the years, I’ve had family and friends ask for help with registration, with locating items they needed to purchase, and give advice about the event like what to bring, what not to bring, what to wear,” she said. “It just made sense to become a table leader and expand my help to people outside my group. I also love that being a table leader makes me feel more part of the event; I get to help members enjoy it as much as I do.”
Moraza notes that the diversity of Dîner en Blanc is such a draw. “It attracts all ages, all races, all gender orientations. Everyone is just there to have a good time.” Favorite Philly location of all time? In Philly’s 5th year, she says, the event was “in front of the Philadelphia art museum steps. It was such a cool sight seeing the waterfall of white and the view of the Ben Franklin Parkway. And as NYC did in its tenth year, Moraza says Philly returned to its original location, around the Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Square. “It was amazing to see how much the event had grown.”
Up, Close, and Personal
The 2022 Dîner en Blanc was the first one I attend, although I had learned about it a few years prior. As a food writer, home cook, Francophile, and self-professed dinner party fan, the event sounded right up my alley. “You have to wear white,” they said. “You bring you own gear,” they said. “The location is a secret,” they said. “It is one big party,” they said. That was enough for me to finally take the plunge and get on the waiting list. Perhaps it’s because it was the first one after the pandemic or just luck, but we didn’t have to wait long. We have heard, however, some people have been waiting for years. We got our tickets, we stay tuned to social media, then about two week before, the group chats begin and your excitement grows. When you meet at the designated meeting point in your city, it is such a thrill to start seeing pockets of people dressed in white gathering together. All dressed to the nines, and rolling their tables, chairs, decor, and food through the city; there’s just nothing like. And when people stop you on the street to ask what’s up or if they can take your picture, you start to realize what a spectacle and special occasion Dîner en Blanc really is. From your groups meeting put, you await the sign from your leader that it is time for the next step; it’s time to hop on the train and go to the next spot and await word from the top. The secret is held tightly until you get just minutes from your final destination. Waves of white glide through the city as the sun starts to set and the night begins. There’s is truly nothing like it. Our first became such an thrilling experience, that after getting engaged last December, my (now) husband and I decided Dîner en Blanc would be the theme for our wedding party. It was yet another magical night to remember.