Dîner En Blanc New York: The Enduring Appeal Of A Glorified Picnic

Jane Kratochvil for Diner en Blanc 2018
Originally published at The Knockturnal.

by 

Like all grand plans, Dîner en Blanc did not go off without a hitch this year. On Monday, with rough waters from Hurricane Florence and limited ferries, the exclusive and strictly all-white dress code event on Governor’s Island saw hundreds of guests arrive more than an hour late to the festivities.

Jane Kratochvil for Dîner en Blanc

These unfortunate customers missed the traditional napkin waving ceremony, a heart-warming marriage proposal, and an exuberant A Capella group. But after waiting for a delayed boat to bring them to the muddy grounds of Governor’s Island as rain gently fell upon their pristine dresses and pantsuits, they arrived all the same. Although some attendees simply set up shop in Battery Park, according to Gothamist, unwilling to wait for the ultimate destination.

The eighth iteration of the New York chapter of the picnic – which began thirty years ago in France – had nearly 6,500 guests. The organizers previously booked the event at other iconic locations in the city, such as Battery Park and Lincoln Center, which were easier to access on foot. But while some guests grumbled at this year’s lofty cross-river ambitions, the fact is Dîner en Blanc has always been a contradiction.

Jane Kratochvil for Dîner en Blanc

For starters, people wait years to receive an invitation, and then pay anywhere from 95 to 600 dollars for their ticket, chairs, kitchenware, a table, food, and alcohol. And these items are also subject to the color restrictions. Then, guests must lug everything from their homes to subways to meet the team leaders (who are privy to the secret location ahead of time), and then set everything up without getting anything dirty. Realistically, one could coordinate a lower-stakes picnic with friends on any day of the year in the Great Lawn of Central Park, atop the Elevated Acre on Water Street, or near the fountain in Washington Square.

But the waitlist for Dîner en Blanc is supposedly 45,000 people long, according to its spokespeople. This cannot all be a product of misplaced FOMO or “fear of missing out”. If one were to make the case for the event, mentioning the aesthetically pleasing glow of fairy lights on all-white tablecloths would help. As would a reference to the celebrity chef who prepares specialty dishes for the picnic. This year, it was Marc Forgione, Iron Chef and Michelin Star recipient, and his tantalizing creations included a picnic basket consisting solely of white foods, one centered on New York culinary contributions (such as black and white cookies), and two others with equally scrumptious variety. Similarly, one could point to the intriguing co-sponsors, such as Champagne Jacquart, ONEHOPE, The Knot, Sofitel, and Luxury Retreats, which provide multiple drinking options, prizes for best table decoration, and more.

We love to gripe about others’ failure to plan a party effectively. I once inadvertently insulted my friend’s mother for choosing “Life is a Highway” as my class’s 5th grade graduation song. It is easy to be a critic in hindsight.

Jane Kratochvil for Dîner en Blanc

But Dîner en Blanc has repeatedly proven that people are willing to overlook the difficulty and inconvenience of getting to and from the party, the wardrobe requirements, and its secretive nature. The event, which takes place in 32 cities including in Taipei, Madrid, and Havana, holds a certain old magic. The appeal might not even be in spite of the hassle, but because of it.

Forgione hinted at this quality as he looked out over the thousands of spirited guests. “I think it’s few and far between times that people just unplug and sit down with each other, sit in grass and have dinner,” he said.

And on the initial ride to Governor’s Island, he inquired semi-jokingly, “So, everybody just kinda shows up and eats dinner?”

Jane Kratochvil for Dîner en Blanc

Christine Tripoli, Dîner en Blanc co-host and Looking Glass Events Group member, spoke at length about the apparent draw of the event. “It is a beautiful mix of every type of person from New York,” she relayed in a phone interview. “Every background, every borough, every ethnicity can be found at Dîner en Blanc.”

Tripoli went on to say that guests “go out of their way” for nearly every aspect of the event. The inconvenience appears to be a part of the experience. On the ferries, strangers helped one another lift shopping carts full of coolers and folding chairs down unstable steps. Most guests participated jovially in that uniquely New York tradition of complaining about something you chose to do.

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