Published on November 29th, 2012 | by Lindsay N. Lauters3
Diner en Blanc: San Diego – A look inside an exclusive pop-up dinner
Diner en Blanc: An Inside Look at the Exclusive Pop-up Dinner Event with a Twist
“Oh no, I can’t believe this!” I wailed early last month, my head buried deep in my closet. I yanked an offending dress off the hanger, whisking it out for inspection under a better light.
“I thought this was white, but it’s cream! Isn’t it?!”
My head pounded, my heart sank.
And at that moment, I had to laugh. What a magical, magnificent, charmed life I lead, that the exact shade of my dress was a major crisis.
Because I had just made it into the first Diner en Blanc in San Diego.
Diner en Blanc is am exclusive, pop-up dinner event with hundreds of participants. It takes place in multiple cities around the globe, in secret, picturesque locations. Diners bring their own tables, chairs, and food, or buy an elegant dinner and wine from a local catering company. The one catch?
You have to dress all in white.
Not eggshell. Not ecru. Not the dreaded cream. The invitation is explicit. In fact, the pigmentation proclamation goes beyond your wardrobe. Your tables, chairs, decorations, floral centerpieces, flatware – absolutely everything must be white.
It’s a lot of coordination, and I had more than one friend ask me why I attended a dinner with such a draconian set of rules.
Well, that was an easy answer: when I got into the thing, I didn’t really know what it was. I saw there was an exclusive pop-up dinner event, I saw the episode of Top Chef Masters with a Diner en Blanc, and I dove toward the sign-up list.
At its roots, though, Diner en Blanc is exactly my kind of event. It started in Paris, when a man was hosting a dinner for friends he’d been separated from for years. He wasn’t sure what they looked like anymore (and this was before the age of easy-access smartphones), so they agreed to dress all in white so they could easily find each other. And they had a lovely picnic together, al fresco.
And, as I found out when I finally attended the event on October 18th, Diner en Blanc in San Diego stayed true to its roots.
So what was the experience like?
Absolutely beautiful. Stunning, even.
The sight of hundreds of people, all in white and illuminated by flickering candlelight, is an image I’ll remember until the day I die.
But I’ll break it down for you, so you know exactly what to expect when you (inevitably) sign up for next year’s waiting list.
STEP ONE: WAITLIST AND RSVP
The dinner is a limited event, so I signed up on the website well in advance.
Once my group and I were accepted, we chose our meeting place, purchased our food on the website, and provided our contact information. The location of the dinner is a secret until the day of the event to discourage party crashers, so your meeting place is where you check in, group up, and hop on your bus for transportation.
Each RSVP is for yourself and one guest, but if you have multiple friends you’re trying to eat with, you must all sign up for the same meeting place. You can request to get moved later, but there are no guarantees (we lost one pair of our party this way).
You also have the chance to rent white tables and chairs, and purchase alcohol or food. Since this was our first dinner, we decided to rent everything and throw in with the catering company, but you can reduce costs for the dinner considerably by bringing everything yourself.
If you’re planning to rent and go catered, though, I highly recommend that you buy everything when you get your RSVP email, because supplies are limited and they go fast.
The catered dinner, by the way, was delicious.
STEP TWO: GET ON THE BUS
On the big day, we showed up at our chosen locations, signed in, and loaded into the buses. It was ridiculously simple. Easy, even.
While we were driving, they finally announced the location of the event: Harbor Island Park.
STEP THREE: ARRIVE AND SET UP
It took about fifteen minutes to drive to the location, and about twenty minutes of waiting on the buses until we were given clearance to walk the final few steps to the event site. The organizers staggered the groups so there wasn’t a mad rush to set up, which I appreciated — it made it very easy to pick up our rentals, our food, and get situated.
You must set up your table in a line with the rest of your bus, but there are no restrictions on how crowded or sparse your table can be. Our group went all out — we had place settings, floral arrangements, china, and decanters.
Other tables brought parasols, white picnic baskets garlanded with Christmas lights, blinking shot glasses, and god knows what else.
Everyone got a beautiful view of the San Diego skyline, free of charge.
STEP FOUR: EAT!
The dinner starts off with the traditional “napkin wave”, which signals that everyone’s set up and ready to eat! And then… the food.
Our menu was delicious. It came with a quinoa salad with apples, a watermelon and feta salad, a charcuterie and cheese plate (with honey, mustard, and a whole baguette), a steak roulade, and a white nonpareil cookie for dessert.
Everything was cold, but full of flavor. The steak was tender and juicy, and filled with herbal fragrance. The cookie might have been my favorite part of the meal: just slightly undercooked, and packed with sugar cookie dough and white chocolate. Yum.
The dinner also came with two wine spritzers, which I avoided in favor of a banana daiquiri cocktail I brought for myself and my date. Live musicians played acoustic guitar and sang for the duration of the meal.
I believe they also crowned the “Best Dress Men and Women” during dinner, but we were so far in the back we didn’t get to see it happen.
Oh well. We had plenty of fun just looking at everyone’s outfits and place settings. And, as I said, the emphasis was on reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. People who bring their own food are encouraged to share (the table next to us offered us spaghetti, garlic bread, and even shots of vodka in light-up glasses), and the dinner closes with a healthy dose of mingling.
STEP FIVE: MINGLE
Once everyone finished eating, the organizers passed out candles for us to light.
When it was time, hundreds of candles all lit up at once, illuminating floating white dresses and suits like fairy lights. It was a beautiful effect, and my favorite part of the meal.
A DJ took the stage, and everyone was set free to wander, chat, check out the other tables, and take pictures for about an hour. There was a lounge area and dance floor to one side, and couples or groups were free to stroll along the San Diego skyline.
STEP SIX: GO HOME
Finally, the magical evening was over, and everyone has to break down their tables, load into the buses, and go home. I was amazed at how quickly everyone got ready, packed out their trash, and headed to the buses. From there, it was a short drive home.
So what was my overall impression?
It’s a beautiful dinner. It’s a sight I will probably never, never see again — hundreds of people under candlelight, all in white, dancing, laughing, and meeting their neighbors. It was expensive, and it was a lot of coordination, but it’s worth doing.
At least once.
Or as many times as they ask me.
Special thanks to:
Photos provided by
Jennifer Dery Photography