Tips for First Time Dîner en Blanc Attendees

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tips for a fabulous first diner en blanc what to bring how to pack what food to eat what to wear to diner en blanc

This past weekend I attended Dîner en Blanc DC. This is my second time attending Dîner en Blanc. This is an event that requires some preparation, supplies, and strategy to have a great time and I want to share what we’ve learned and what has worked to help others enjoy Dîner en Blanc. I hope these tips for first time Dîner en Blanc attendees will help you have an amazing experience at this unique event!

Dîner en Blanc began in Paris in 1988 when François Pasquier invited a group of friends to an elegant outdoor dinner, asking them to dress in white so they could find each other. It is now a worldwide event spanning six continents. A date is chosen, as well as a location. However, the location remains a secret until you arrive.

Image via Dîner en Blanc DC

How to Get a Ticket to Dîner en Blanc

DC has a waiting list of tens of thousands to attend. If you haven’t attended, I recommend paying to be a member now. When tickets go on sale, there are three rounds. First round is those who have attended previously, second round is those who signed up to be members or were guests of a previous attendee, third round, if there’s seats left, go to the public.  You will be notified by email when the date will be for ticket sales and what round you are eligible to participate in.

Set a reminder on your phone or in your electronic calendar with the link to buy tickets.  Tickets go FAST and especially if you have others you wish to sit with, you need to be quick on the trigger.

When you register to attend, you choose a group leader and then from there, a table leader. These group leaders are assigned to meeting spots all over the city; some of these spots are walking distance to the secret location, some require a trip on the Metro or by charter bus. It’s imperative that if you wish to sit with friends you all choose the same table leader. Over 5,000 people attend Dîner en Blanc and you sit with those with the same table leader; there’s a good chance you will never see friends at the event with different group leaders, and it’s impossible to leave your table leader and sit elsewhere at the event.

Image via Dîner en Blanc DC

What to Bring to Dîner en Blanc

Dîner en Blanc is a pop-up dinner. As a guest, you bring everything – your table, your chairs, and your meal. There are options to rent your tables and chairs as well as get a prepared meal but I don’t recommend it. The lines can be long causing you to miss the beginning and end of the event. Last year I was only halfway through the food line when they began Dîner en Blanc with the ceremonial waving of the napkins and I’ve had friends have to end the party early to hike their tables and chairs blocks away back to the rental spot.

People go all out with their food or centerpieces or outfits… but it’s near impossible to do all three. Find a focus and keep in mind that you may have to cart your stuff a half a mile in the blazing sun and get it on and off public transportation and have to set it up in about 15 minutes.

How to carry everything to Diner en Blanc plus tips on what you must bring to the most famous white party in the world

Using this collapsable hand cart to carry this folding table and four folding chairs to the 2018 DC Dîner en Blanc

Shop Dîner en Blanc Essentials:

What You Must Bring to Dîner en Blanc

The basics that you need is a chair for each attendee and a table 28″ to 32” wide. My sister has this table which is awesome because it’s super sturdy but folds to half its width and has a built-in carrying strap. Chairs need to be white or else have white chair covers on them. I bought two of these chairs last year; they’re lightweight and sturdy.

Table linens need to be cloth, all serveware, plates, silverware, and such need to be real, nothing disposable. We used melamine plates and unbreakable wine glasses to lighten the load, silverware from the kitchen, and my sister has footed water glasses that are sturdy yet pretty. For serveware, we all had various white trays and bowls (I often find these on clearance at Target).

Bring things for cleaning up. Paper towels and trash bags are a necessity and not provided by Dîner en Blanc. We pack up the plates and glasses in old dish towels to pad them but also to sop up dirty plates and any spills. Have quart- or gallon-sized Ziploc bags to store dirty silverware at the end of the night and if you wish to take home any leftovers.

Using a three-tier server for more space for food on the table; wind fairy lights around the center for light and a festive touch!

Food and Drink for Dîner en Blanc

Dîner en Blanc partners with wine companies and restaurants so you can order your dinner in advance and pick it up at the venue. However, the first year I stood in line for almost two hours to get ours and this year I heard again that people missed a good portion of the event waiting in line for their meals. I strongly recommend you bring your own food.

This year we did a variety of foods that work well at room temperature. We brought a cooler for that which needed to be chilled. We had mason jars with chilled cilantro shrimp, prosciutto and cantaloupe skewers, pre-cooked sweet potato latkes, pre-cooked asparagus and crema, and a variety of crackers, cheeses, olives, and tapenades. We also had a brownie and fruit dessert also in mason jars. There’s not a ton of time to set up and plate food, so keep that in mind and keep things relatively simple. While Dîner en Blanc recommends you bring a three-course meal many just choose to have a selection of meats, cheeses, fruit, and crackers.  Consider hitting the local Whole Foods for some yummies from their salad, cold, and hot bars. I've seen people bring take-out Chinese or sushi as well.

As for drink, Dîner en Blanc doesn’t allow outside alcohol… however many people bring it. I don’t wish to condone breaking the rules of the event, but if they don’t see it (some Dîner en Blanc events do cursory bag checks) it’s a way to save time and money and also have exactly what you want at the event. Please note this year we weren't allowed to have anything sharp and that included a wine bottle opener. These days you can find high-quality wines with screw tops (and champagne is always a great choice), so forego bottles with traditional corks.

Be sure to bring water as well as wine for the event; it’s hot and the events do not usually provide water.  We were not allowed any open containers with liquid inside which included reusable water bottles so plan accordingly.

diner en blanc tips including what food to bring

Decorating the Table for Dîner en Blanc

Most people add decor to their tables, for appearance and also for lighting (there will not be lighting, your table will need to offer it). Last year my sister created the perfect tablescape – easy, budget-friendly, and festive. She has two cut glass vases the same size. Inside she put a string of battery-operated fairy lights. She bought two bunches of baby’s breath at the grocery store. Once the tables are set up, she cut the baby’s breath to the right length and put them in the vase (baby’s breath doesn’t require water to look fresh all night long). This year there were four of us and therefore two tables. We had one tablecloth to cover both tables, put the vases on the outside edges and in the center had a three-tier glass server like this one and my sister wound more battery-operated fairy lights around the stand (battery packs were hidden by food and basil leaves we brought for decoration).

We used a simple polyester tablecloth like this one and white napkins, though many people get fancy with overlays and napkin rings. I also saw many who had chargers under their plates to add glamour to the tables.

If you wish to get more elaborate with your table, that’s fantastic. It’s so much fun to be seated next to an elaborate setup. Keep in mind you may be wedged between strangers so your tablescape needs to be able to reside completely on your table. Also know it may be windy, people may bump into your table, and you may set up and then find you need to move your whole table six feet forward to perfect the rows so be sure it’s durable and sturdy. Flames are not permitted and there will not be any light except that which you provide at your table so look for flameless candles and fairy lights for your tablescape. A lot of people use a cinema lightbox or light-up letters to personalize their tablescape. Eiffel Towers are popular decor choices as well. I’ve seen elaborate poles holding lights, fringe, and more above the tables.

The most important tip is to do a dry run of your table set-up. Start from everything packed up and see how many hands and how much time it takes to get set up. Use post-it notes to label which tray or bowl holds which food and take pictures to remember the actual set up. Doing this will make the actual Dîner en Blanc setup faster and less stressful.

Meeting Your Group for Dîner en Blanc

Don't be late! If your table leader emails you saying you need to be at the meeting spot at 5pm, be there at 4:50. There's often a lot of confusion at the meet-up point with new folks or those trying to change their assignment, and if you're there early you're making it easier for the table leader, thereby reducing the chance you'll be late to the venue. It also makes it easier to join up with those friends you plan to sit with.

Last year we took an Uber XL to our meeting spot, this year a friend with a truck dropped us off. Don't expect to have parking at your meet-up spot, and don't think you can drive to the secret location.  Heck, part of the fun is filling the city streets with people all dressed in white!

Everything we brought for four people to the 2018 DC Dîner en Blanc; this cart was a lifesaver and holds up to 150 lbs yet easily folds down to fit under your table.

Carting Everything to Dîner en Blanc

I think the most time should be put into how to get your stuff from your meeting place to the secret destination of Dîner en Blanc. So many times I see on the journey carts lose their wheels, bags break, items fall out of totes and shatter, and strapped-together contraptions collapse. You may be walking over bumpy terrain, up hills, and making sharp turns so whatever you use to carry your stuff needs to be ready to handle it.

This year I invested in this cart knowing I’ll find so many uses for it beyond Dîner en Blanc. It was genius. In it, we had our cooler and a huge tote bag that carried all of our linens and plates and non-refrigerated food. The cart folds up super easy and small to slip under your table during the event and it can easily carry 150 pounds. The wheels spin easily making turns without anything tipping out.

Both years we used a folding hand truck like this one to hold the table and chairs. This year, it held four chairs and our folding table just fine. Use more bungees than you would expect to hold everything in place both vertically and horizontally so nothing slides off. Our second table was a classic folding table like this; we used some webbing and tied it to the legs to make a shoulder strap to carry it to the destination.

Not everything you use to transport your gear has to be white, however, if it isn’t white it must hide completely under your table.

I recommend bringing extra bungee cords just in case things get loose on the journey or things don’t exactly fit back together to take everything home at the end of the night.

Keep in mind you may be standing in lines for long periods of time and walking up hills in the blazing sun. Prepare accordingly. Wear comfortable shoes, even if that means changing your shoes once you get to the event. Put on sunscreen, yes even at 5pm you can get a sunburn. This year I brought this little white umbrella; I figured it’s still useful after Dîner en Blanc and it was a nice way to shield us from the sun without ruining the dress code. A fan is also a nice addition and looks festive; this one I used last year with my dress. A few people had personal fans like this which were brilliant. If you want to drink water on the journey, be sure it’s a small bottle you can dispose of before entering the venue.

Adding light to our all-white looks for after the sun set; these fairy lights have a tiny battery pack easy to hide in your clothing!

What to Wear to Dîner en Blanc

The dress code is white. No black piping, no pops of color, straight up white clothing. Over the years they have allowed tan shoes and belts and metallic accents (shoes, jewelry). As for what style and formality, it runs the gamut. You’ll see individuals in white tank tops and white linen skirts, and others in white evening gowns. I recommend figuring out an outfit that is festive, can survive heat and sweat, and is comfortable. You will be walking and standing for at least an hour before arriving at the event. Then you will be doing a mad dash to set up your table and food. Then you eat, and then there’s dancing. In total it will be about five hours of activity and that activity happens rain or shine.

Image via Dîner en Blanc DC

Last year I wore a loose maxi dress with flat sandals. To manage humidity hair, I bought a large flower clip to hold back the side of my hair. This year I wore a jumpsuit with flat sandals and pinned back half of my hair and sprayed it in place so it would still look polished if I got sweaty.

Some people dress more like a garden party with linen trousers and cotton sundresses. Others go all out with tuxedos and fur stoles. There’s always a few who steal the show in incredibly elaborate getups and creative looks (and if you want to be photographed, that's what the photographers will look for). If unsure, go more formal. No flip flops, sneakers, jeans, shorts, or athleisure.  I recommend having fun with a hat, fascinator, or some sort of “extra” accessory.  You'll see some wear masks, some wear full-on costumes. While the dress code is strict for color, within that color most anything goes!

Image via Washingtonian

Bring safety pins and Tide to Go pens. I saw a few women have wardrobe malfunctions, and I know by the end of the evening my jumpsuit was positively filthy. Consider bringing a backup pair of shoes if the pair you’re wearing are tall or haven’t yet been broken in. White underpinnings show under white clothing, especially with flash photography. Instead, choose nude-to-you undergarments for a more seamless look.

Consider finding ways to light up your look once the sun goes down. My friend wore a sundress of an eyelet-like fabric and threaded fairy lights through the material. I had a giant bow on the shoulder of my jumpsuit and I wrapped fairy lights around it and made a bow from the wire and hid the battery pack in my bra. My sister wore a headband with a large silk flower on the side and wound fairy lights around the band hiding the battery pack behind the flower. I bought this pack of fairy lights and all but one strand worked and the battery packs are super tiny and easy to hide in clothing. Sequins, metallics, and crystals are also fun ways to catch the light and look festive at Dîner en Blanc.

Diner en Blanc 2018 DC Nationals Park

The Best Tips for First Time Dîner en Blanc Attendees

If you scroll through the hashtags on Instagram, Dîner en Blanc can look like the most elegant and posh event. Beautiful people in beautiful clothing sipping champagne and laughing near famous landmarks and monuments at sunset. However, to get to that point they walked up to a mile carting up to 100 pounds of gear and raced to put together their table and hide all their luggage with thousands of other stressed out people. If you don’t expect this aspect, you can find the event to be pretty awful. I’ve seen far too many people unprepared for the labor and planning it takes for a successful Dîner en Blanc.

My tip to you? Treat Dîner en Blanc not as a posh dinner but as a music festival. It's like going to Bonnaroo but in much nicer clothes.

Choose what to focus on, if it’s your look consider keeping food super simple and forego fancy centerpieces. Maybe pack part of your look and add it when you arrive to keep it looking fresh and make it easier to walk to the destination. If you want an awesome tablescape and meal experience, wear simpler clothing and invest in sturdy carts and hand trucks to cart your supplies. If there’s a lot of setup, strategize with your friends and assign roles so everyone is working to get it done quickly and efficiently.

Don’t expect your first year to be perfection. Each year you attend you improve on your setup, you learn from others you meet at Dîner en Blanc, and it gets easier and more fun. And truly, if this post hasn’t scared you off then you WILL have fun at Dîner en Blanc. I hope to see you there next year!

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18 Comments

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18 Comments

  • Vickie September 12, 2018

    Sounds fun, but I can’t imagine a less accessible event for those with a mobility disability.

  • Helen September 5, 2018

    Hi, I think while a lot of work this sounds fantastic. Now to see if they do this in my part of the world!

  • Chris August 29, 2018

    (to continue)

    in Dîner en Blanc is no more pronounced than my reluctance to go to music festivals or many other events that attract large numbers of people.

    I do go to air shows and antique farm equipment shows, county fairs becasue
    my desire to see the airplanes, tractors, and farm animals is strong enough
    to temporarily overcome my shyness.

    My thought is that I hope folks who like Dîner en Blanc will continue to attend
    in good health for years and years to come!

  • Chris August 29, 2018

    I think the folks who organize the event are very disciplined, organized, and have razor sharp focus. I think they deserve a lot of credit. It must be incredibly difficult to create and successfully pull off such a massive event.

    I do see the appeal. Done successfully, it is a powerful, inclusive event. I think it hints at, if only for a few hours, what world peace might look like.

    I appreciate the benefit of your experience and suggestions. I think you
    have provided valuable information for those who care to participate.

    I wouldn’t mind the labor part. I don’t shy away from hard work. I am not
    criticizing those who aren’t thrilled about the work involved. I am only
    talking about myself. No, my reasons for not wanting to participate involve
    my reclusiveness, my desire to be in a quiet environment as often as I
    can, and my unwillingness to be social and engaged with others. (Yes, I know
    I have issues!)

    My reluctance to participate in

  • Karin August 29, 2018

    Thank you for sharing so much detail, Alison! I have always thought this event sounds glam and fun, so I really appreciate the unvarnished truth about all the effort and prep and hauling things miles in the sun.

    It sounds like my complete nightmare, but I’m glad to have been forewarned. And for those who like the idea, they’ll be super prepared by following your advice. I always love your honesty!

  • Ruth August 29, 2018

    I must say I’m with the people who say it sounds like hell. But each to their own. I’m glad you had a good time.

    • Alison Gary August 29, 2018

      Exactly, I think we all have hobbies and interests that others would consider to be hell. If we’re enjoying ourselves and not hurting others, what’s the problem? I know hundreds of thousands attend Diner en Blanc across the globe, I hope my tips will help them! 🙂

  • Kate August 29, 2018

    I am definitely one of the people who read this blog post and decided I would probably never ever want to attend one of these events. 😀 However, I love that 1) you enjoy this (because it does sound pretty fabulous if it’s your scene) 2) you put all of this super helpful information together 3) you understand the logistics to making this a fantastic experience.

    I am definitely a planner and there’s nothing I love more than making lists, coordinating with people, and doing a lot of leg work and planning in order to have a fantastic experience doing something. So again, while this is absolutely not my scene, I loved reading all about it, and how helpful will be for people who need this information in the future?

    Also, you looked fantastic. You have definitely been my gateway to jumpsuits, and now it’s my default choice outfit choice when I need to wear something that makes me feel really special and chic.

    • Alison Gary August 29, 2018

      Yesss to jumpsuits! I am glad you have embraced them, they’re so great for so many situations! And yeah, I know not every posts will resonate with every reader, but if this can help someone I feel good about this blog!

  • Lynn August 29, 2018

    I appreciate your experience with this event and taking the time to share so thoroughly, Alison. Love your jumpsuit, too. But honestly, less than half-way through your post I was thinking, “This is fun?” Sounds way too big , way too complicated and (forgive me) just a little too pretentious to be fun to me, but it was interesting to read about.

    • Alison Gary August 29, 2018

      I never fully understand the pretentious part. No one calls the Renaissance Festival pretentious, or those who are Civil War reenactors. It can seem like a totally ridiculous event but anyone can go, it’s just as exclusive as a concert or other event with tickets. Glad you found it interesting, I just love events like this that benefit from a little strategy and the ability to improve based off experience!

      • Lynn August 29, 2018

        I hear ya. I’m pretty sure I’d find Renaissance Faires and Civil War re-enactment pretentious in different ways, LOL. It’s not you, it’s me. I do think the setting of DC in the evening in the streets sounds beautiful and that part of a Diner En Blanc appeals to me. Thanks for telling us all about it and giving a clear action plan for those who want to give it a go.

  • Janicia August 29, 2018

    Love this post! This was my first year attending and I had a great time. The links to your tables and chairs are super helpful. I bought a table that could fold the legs but not the top. Next year, I want to make it easier to carry around a whole set-up in the sun. 🙂

    • Alison Gary August 29, 2018

      Whew, the sun is quite a factor! :). I am glad you had a great time, and I hope to see you there next year!

  • Shell August 29, 2018

    Why do you need to setup in under 15min and what happens if you don’t? Do they not let you in if you have the wrong color piping on your outfit? I understand the need for rules to give it the ambiance and look, but I agree with the person above that it seems like way too much trouble and you could probably throw a pretty posh event somewhere yourself themed however you want, like a total white party of your own with your friends. Going to a tailgate or other festival doesn’t leave me feeling like I’ve run a marathon before the party even starts. Once you are eating you can relax but too much drama beforehand for me to deal with!

    • Alison Gary August 29, 2018

      Depending on the size of the event, you may have plenty more time but the point of it is a group event, not a personal event. If you want to throw your own event with your select group of friends that is fantastic; if you wish to be part of a group thing with a mixed variety of people from your area who all are participating in the same fun and ridiculous event, that too is fantastic. I didn’t feel like I was running a marathon, some people enjoy the planning of such an event. I wrote this because a lot of people are interested in this event but not sure how to plan for it. By doing some planning and deciding what to worry about ahead of time, it’s actually quite fun.

  • Patricia August 29, 2018

    While parts of the party look awesome, it looks like way more trouble than it was worth. Going on a picnic with friends sounds a lot easier and more fun.

    Was it worth it in your opinion?

    • Alison Gary August 29, 2018

      I think it’s all about what appeals to you. I don’t see it as any more trouble, in fact less than going camping or attending a music festival. The idea of sitting in a gorgeous setting like in front of the monuments or on the Mall, at sunset, with 5,000 people from your same city, all toasting together is pretty awesome of an experience. Last year they shut down Pennsylvania Avenue and we dined right on the street, the museums next to us, a view of the Capitol. Think how much planning and purchases goes into tailgating and attending a football game, I don’t see this as anything different.

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