I’ll be the first person to admit that I suffer majorly from FOMO. For those who don’t know, FOMO is the acronym for “fear of missing out.” My FOMO affliction propels me to RSVP affirmatively to most invitations and encourages me to check out new places, trends and events so that I don’t feel like I am missing out on something.
Last week, I attended Philadelphia’s sixth annual Dîner en Blanc, held in Franklin Square. Because I saw pictures and video of the grand old time people had at Diner en Blanc in 2016 on the steps of Philly’s Art Museum, I was swept up with FOMO when given the chance to attend this year’s very elaborate dinner party, so off I went.
For those who don’t know what I am talking about, let me back up and tell you exactly what Diner en Blanc is. Launched with just a handful of friends by François Pasquier in Paris nearly 30 years ago, Dîner en Blanc in Paris now assembles over 10,000 guests every year at an impromptu gigantic outdoor dinner party. In 2012, Dîner en Blanc International was founded, and the event quickly spread to over 70 cities around the world, with close to 120,000 guests participating each year. Philadelphia is one of those cities. Philly’s Dîner en Blanc event has grown to be the largest one in the entire United States. Organized by a team led by co-hosts Natanya DiBona and Kayli Moran, Dîner en Blanc is held rain or shine and has become one of Philly’s hottest tickets in town.
A record 5,300 guests attended Philadelphia’s sixth annual Dîner en Blanc on Thursday night and more than 40,000 people who didn’t get a ticket signed up for a waiting list. Those who did were chosen by lottery. Tickets, costing $40, with an extra $9 for a membership fee, are sold in pairs, and registration is always for two people.
I brought my daughter along as my guest, and we were both excited to attend, although we were “newbies,” so we didn’t fully understand it at first. We both asked the more experienced participants many questions.
We were told to wear head-to-toe white outfits and to get into Center City, near Reading Terminal Market, by 6:30 p.m., when we would get a text instructing us where to go for this mysterious “pop up” dinner party, of which no one knows the secret location until right before the event happens. Our text arrived as promised, and it said that the venue would be Franklin Square. The 7.5-acre Franklin Square was hopping earlier this summer when it was transformed into Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival. We were ready to see its next transformation, and we had 15 minutes to get there.
The first Diner en Blanc Philadelphia took place in 2012 at Logan Circle. Past locations include the JFK Bridge in 2013, the Avenue of the Arts in 2014, The Navy Yard in 2015 and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016. Now, Franklin Square will join the ranks.
After parking, we joined thousands of other men and women, all dressed in white outfits, who had the coveted limited spots at the event. We walked, creating a sea of white, all the way to Franklin Square. My daughter and I chuckled, saying that the sight would have looked crazy if you were a visitor to the city and didn’t know what was going on. Tourists may certainly have wondered why so many people decked out in pure white were flooding the city streets.
Looking at the outfits was one of my favorite features of the night. I found it pretty amazing that I didn’t see a single person who bent the rules, not even a little, by wearing off-white or light beige. The name of the game was ivory snow white, and participants strictly stuck to the theme. Attendees wore white top hats and tuxedos, white ball gowns, white feathers in their hair, white wigs, white sun hats, white boas, white angel wings, white bridal gowns, white masks and white suits and dresses bedazzled with white Christmas lights — each outfit and each accessory was jazzier and more outstanding than the next one!
In addition to checking out the extremely interesting and fashionable white outfits, I was also in amazement at the white table wares people were carting to the dinner. Since you had to supply your own food, tables, utensils, plates, table cloths and chairs, people carted along huge carts and other wheeled contraptions holding coolers and picnic baskets, white chairs, tables, wine goblets, bottles of wine and spirits, lighting, flowers and vases, linens, lights and everything but the kitchen sink. They brought these things on foot since parking lots were blocks away. Others arrived with all this baggage by train or subway, while others came by Uber or Lyft.
When we reached Franklin Square, I was, quite literally, stunned. It’s difficult to put in words what a vision it was to see 5,300 people in Sunday-best, clean, pure white attire. Many had already set up their tables, ready to dine, with white linen tablecloths, fine china and silverware, fresh flowers on the tables, lights strung along, white chair covers, candles, candle sticks and candelabras and all kinds of chandeliers. Yes, you heard me, chandeliers! People lugged chandeliers, such as the type you or I might have in our dining rooms, and had them set up on their tables.
The purpose of Dîner en Blanc is simply to hold a friendly gathering of people, a magical evening, where guests are in good company and the atmosphere is extraordinary. We walked around to see the tables, and they were definitely extraordinary. People went all out! I noticed afterwards on the Diner en Blanc website (philadelphia.dinerenblanc.com) that there was an option to have your meal catered or to order your white linen tablecloth and napkins or your table centerpiece. As I admired table décor, I couldn’t help to also notice meals. Although some people ate hoagies, pizza and other simple fare, I was amazed at how many were dining on full-course gourmet meals.
The four-hour gigantic dinner party had a lot of fun components to it as well. Guests were supposed to have their tables set up and be ready to dine at 7:15, when all 5,300 guests waved their white napkins in unison. This is a Dîner en Blanc tradition that signifies the start of dinner. At 9:15 p.m., the same 5,300 people (give or take a few) lit sparklers and held them up to signify the end of dinner and the beginning of dancing. Music played and some diners took to the empty pockets of space in the square to dance. Some people played games, participated in horse races or played free mini golf and enjoyed access to the playground. Others bounced white beach balls or rode the Franklin Square carousel. There was much to do and much to see. Dîner en Blanc was definitely not boring — not for a second. We event got to witness a couple who got engaged during the event. At 11 p.m., participants were supposed to pack up their belongings, clean up their trash and pop out of there, as quickly and effortlessly as they popped in there.
One thing was apparent throughout the night. People seemed so happy and excited to be there. Photo after photo, taken at the tables, in front of the fountain, on the carousel and dancing the night away, were uploaded to Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, hashtagged DEBPHL17. Organizers claim that the elegance of the dress and the ambiance of the entire affair fosters good conduct, proper decorum and etiquette from guests.
All I can say is, that in this case, I am happy that my FOMO clicked into gear and pushed me into experiencing this extravagant night out on the town. I am admitting that I just felt so hip and trendy, so cool to be there. There was excitement and energy in the air. I tried to explain to a few people afterwards what Dîner en Blanc was all about, but then I just sort of stopped cold. How can you explain how an elegant picnic with 5,300 white-attired people just pops up suddenly in the middle of Philly and goes off without a hitch? The description sounds so far out there, even surreal, that I felt a little at a loss for the right words to describe it to someone who has never been there himself. Since with each passing year, Dîner en Blanc seems to grow a little larger, I can only hope that my fellow FOMO compadres will get to experience white-night in 2018 for themselves. If you go next year, see if you can spot me — I’ll be wearing white — and let me know what you think.