Diner en Blanc Baltimore – It Ain’t for Everybody!

Full Disclosure: I was on the volunteer team for the Inaugural Edition of Diner en Blanc Baltimore. My opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of the hosts of Diner en Blanc Baltimore or the parent organization Diner en Blanc International.

My first Diner en Blanc experience was in New York City in 2016. My good friend Shanika scored a coveted spot after having been on their wait list for almost forever. I long had heard about Diner en Blanc, and was intrigued. Being a part of a “pop up event” where you don’t know where you’re going and then once you arrive, you have a hand in creating the event was something I wanted to experience.

To prepare for our DEB NYC experience, Shanika and I ran drills practicing packing and unpacking, setting our table up and then breaking it down. Several times. We timed ourselves, and weighed our options (literally). Since we would be driving from Baltimore to New York, and then navigating lower Manhattan to arrive at our departure point, we had to think through what essential items would be easiest to carry.

I did my research before attending DEB NYC, so I was fully aware that it was work. It was not a typical summer white party where you show up in a cute white short set and heels and pose for pictures in front of a step-and-repeat. DEB attendees are responsible for helping to build the party from the ground up…literally.

Looking at some of the mixed reviews about Diner en Blanc Baltimore on social media, I can only laugh. Some people just don’t get it. Unfortunately, with anything shiny and new, everybody wants to have it, touch it, be a part of it, but not everybody is willing to put in the work.

To appreciate the international phenomenon that is Diner en Blanc, you have to understand the history of the event. François Pasquier started the Dîner en Blanc tradition almost thirty years ago as a means of reconnecting with old friends after having been away from Paris for a period of time. Because all his friends did not know each other, he asked them to wear white so that they could identify each other when they arrived at their meeting place. They brought their tables and chairs (you know those cute French bistro sets we see in HomeGoods and other home furnishing stores? Yeah, some people actually fold them up, take them to a park and use them for their intended purpose).  A beautiful tradition came from that first meeting in Paris, and has spread across the globe.

The dress code, and all of the other rules that some people said were “silly” or “stupid” exist to honor the French tradition. To preserve the integrity of Diner en Blanc, there were aesthetic elements that guests had to adhere to. Deviations — non-white attire, athletic gear, odd-sized tables — tarnish the brand and ruin the experience.

So last night was Baltimore’s time to shine. Despite the naysayers who didn’t attend or those who attended and complained the whole time (because they were woefully unprepared), the majority of people that I spoke with had a wonderful time.

There are some who think Diner en Blanc is not for Baltimore, and they are entitled to their opinion. I beg to differ. Baltimore, with all of its grit and rough edges, has endured a barrage of endless criticism, especially in recent years. We have been dismissed and painted with a broad brush as being a city with no morals, no culture, no potential. As a proud Baltimore native, it pisses me off when people (even some other fellow natives) disparage our city, relegating us to a perpetual state of inferiority. Baltimore is more than crime, chicken boxes and jumbo half and halfs.

Being that this was Baltimore’s Inaugural Edition, the business community and the media were slow to embrace the Diner en Blanc concept. Thus, the exposure and resources for the host team were rather limited. It’s sad that our local media (specifically the television stations) did not cover this event as they could have. But that’s the nature of the beast that is the mainstream media. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

It is extremely disappointing to have read some of the reviews and comments on social media trashing Diner en Blanc Baltimore, the host and volunteer team, and dismissing those who put in a tremendous amount of work to attend and make this event happen. My responsibilities as a group leader started earlier this year, and required much of my time over the past several months. I was responsible for coordinating logistics for the 300 wonderful and excited guests that chose to depart from Owings Mills. It was no easy feat. Many things in my personal life had to sit on the back burner, including my upcoming book release. (Thank goodness my friend and publisher, CP Patrick and her Field Order Press team have been so understanding.) My poor husband may have ingested glitter or metallic paint with his dinner at some point because I turned our kitchen and sunroom into a DEB craft workshop. There were conference calls I had to run home from work to take at lunch time. I even had to take a couple of conference calls in the wee hours of the morning. While the rest of Baltimore was sleeping, the host and volunteer team for DEB were hard at work. In addition, there were site visits, meetings, and so many other things that went into pulling just our part together.

I didn’t do any of this alone. The team of table leaders that I worked with sacrificed so much to make this event a success. I am grateful to them for all that they did to make sure the 300 people we were responsible for were well taken care of. It required a lot of sacrifice — time, sweat equity and money out of my own pocket. I had a phenomenal team to work with, including my fabulous, creative and forever organized friend Shanika and the amazing and gracious Jade Nicole of Charm City Pretty. We all pitched in where we needed to, investing time and money to make sure the Owings Mills guests had an authentic and enjoyable experience.

I can’t help but laugh at some of the people who complained about all the work that it took for them to attend Diner en Blanc. They thought they had work? Oh, they have no idea. Diner en Blanc is not your typical white party. It is a unique event, that if planned for properly, will be an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I loved how someone described it as “planned spontenaiety.”

To help guests prepare, the volunteer team sent out periodic communications to guests, advising them of the dress code (in place to honor the French tradition), items to bring and advice to help them plan. If you didn’t read one of the dozens of emails that we sent out then, you didn’t know that you probably should wear flat shoes instead of those white Louboutins you purchased. Or you wouldn’t have known not to bring your entire kitchen and dining room with you. We created videos to help inform attendees about Diner en Blanc fashion and about packing for the event. It was painfully obvious last night who didn’t read the emails, watch the videos, and failed to take heed to any of the advice that was offered. And today, those are some of the very people who have a million and one complaints about last night.

Is Diner en Blanc pretentious? Of course it is! So then how would you define the guests who were asking if there would be Moet to go along with styrofoam containers of fried chicken? Ratchetly pretentious? Or pretentiously ratchet?

For those who complained about the location, and suggested that the hosts should have thought about this place or that, do you not think that they did that already? I mean, come on, people. Cut the ladies some slack. They explored dozens of options. Trust me, I know. Some of the “I wish it were at” options just were not feasible due to size, cost, or logistics. Some venues that some people are tossing around as “better options” couldn’t even be considered because of permit and/or insurance issues. And let’s face it, Baltimore is not particularly a walkable city, so just about anywhere they chose would involve chartered buses as transportation. However, I digress. If you can tell the hosts how to get 1,000+ people to one of the “chic” locations you just knew would work much better than the Zoo, I invite you to send them an email and lay out the logistics for them. Obviously, you as an attendee that showed up 30 minutes before boarding the charter bus know a hell of a lot more about planning this event than the hosts who have been working for almost a year on it.

Criticize all you want, but take a moment and put yourselves in the hosts’ shoes. They sacrificed their own time, money and resources to fill in the gaps where they had to so that there would be a Diner en Blanc in the first place. At least give them some respect for that.

Some people had complained about having to haul their own trash at the end of the night. Pauvres bébés. No one told you to pack your food in carryout styrofoam containers or to wrap your fried chicken in aluminum foil. Diner en Blanc is a sustainable event. Don’t know what sustainable means? Then check out this post on The Afro Minimalist for a quick, informative primer. If you do Diner en Blanc right, you don’t have trash to take home. My husband, sister, brother, sister-in-law and I shared a meal and brought all of our food in reusable containers. We didn’t even have need for a trash bag, although we brought one. It was infuriating to see people disrespect the Diner en Blanc brand and the Maryland Zoo, hurling their garbage bags in or near the trash receptacles as they left. That’s not how Diner en Blanc works. You leave the area the same way you found it. Some people just don’t get it.

For those of you who enjoyed yourselves and are looking forward to attending next year, I look forward to seeing you in 2018! For those who thought it was a waste of time and money, thanks for deciding now that you won’t be back, and for so graciously making room for someone who will appreciate having the experience next year. I wish you well and hope you have a great time at your next white party!

 

 

15 Replies to “Diner en Blanc Baltimore – It Ain’t for Everybody!”

  1. I had another friend attend from New Jersey, and she truly enjoyed. This was new for me, but I am intrigued. Would love to attend the next event, or volunteer-if possible. I am also going to send you an IM, just in case you do not get this message.

  2. I had a great time!!!!! It’s was AWSOME!! It’s was not my first and the Baltimore team did an exceptional job ensuring we had a great time!

  3. Thank you so much for this needed essay. I did not attend Le Diner en Blanc Baltimore edition not have ever attending any edition. However, I saw so many gorgeous pictures of the event on social media. I have also read some of the negative reviews if the event. When I read the negative reviews I was so disappointed especially from those who wanted so badly to be part of the event only to insult the efforts of the coordinators/planners. I was most appalled when I read that participants wondered if Baltimore was a place to have such event.

    Shameful!!!

    To the the coordinators/planners I would like to thank you for bringing such a beautiful event to Baltimore. From what I saw, you all did a wonderful job. Applause all around. This was the first event. I am sure there were some bumps and hiccups. You learn from this year and the each year afterwards will be even more awesome. I hope you all are taking notes on the individuals who had negative experiences (I am sure they will flip flop next year and will want to be on The List) and those who did not adhere to the rules and restrictions (off white clothing, clothing with gold embroidery, black belts and shoes, etc). Please remember their names.

    Once again thank you for bringing Le Diner en Blanc to Baltimore.

  4. My sentiments exactly! Even Patasco park has a policy that you must take your trash with you. To eliminate that issue, you use reusable containers- simple. I think DEB is appropriate for Baltimoreans who are willing to embrace a different concept of the “white party” and who are willing to respect protocol and tradition to ensure a great time is had by all. My husband and I appreciated the time and effort that you and the members of your team put into making Baltimore’s inaugural DEB a success in our eyes. A very special thanks to our table leader, Nardos King!

  5. This is a helpful review and rebuttal about the event and comments made about Diner En Blanc. I did not attend because I found about the event ,too, late and the information received when I inquired for more infomation was sketchy. Yes, I do enjoy trying new things and being adventurous but I am, also,a woman who is very detailed orientedl. Diner En Blanc, definitely, seems to be an event that I want to know more about. By next year’s sign-up period, I hope to have a clear picture and knowledge of the dos and don’t so that I will know exactly what-is-what and my group and I can share une soirée délicieuse et attrayante!

  6. I was so disappointed that I could not attend this event hopefully next year. However the directions were pretty clear about what was required to attend. I love that the guest had to live outside of the box. Everything looked exceptional from the guest I was excitedly following via FB (Melissa Tompkins). I hope that the negativity doesn’t discourage you and everyone else that put so much time an energy into making Baltimore Beautiful.
    Carry On

  7. It’s really not for everyone but I must say I had a fabulous time. The only downside was I was on the last bus and we were late getting to the venue but you expect bumps in the road for the first event. I still had a great time. The people on my bus were great sports about the lateness and we still partied the night away once we were there. Unfortunately Baltimorians are so cynical and are not open to new experiences. That is one reason why I travel out of state to attend specific events. You guys did and awesome job and it was greatly appreciated. I can’t wait until next years event. Hopefully people will educate themselves on the concept before they are negative and cynical.

  8. I didn’t know anything about it but after I helped on attendee get ready for it I wish I had, maybe next year. I altered his tablecloth and embroidered 2 special napkins for him. If you need any help for next years event, you have a volunteer here.

  9. Kim, I’ve read your comments with great interest because your experience was very different than mine and my friends. You are right that Diner en Blanc is not for everyone but you have taken the comments from others and assumed that because the event has rules and people have to make an effort to attend the comments that point out issues with the event are not to be taken seriously. I completely disagree with you on that. My friends and I were very excited to attend the first Diner en Blanc in Baltimore and prepared our dinner and table with a lot of consideration. The fact that it’s advertised as an event that “leaves passersby in awe of the spectacle that 1000’s of people dressed all in white creates” and we ended up in a side park of the Baltimore Zoo is a fact – not an opinion. The fact that we arrived at the park as the sun was setting so our light was limited and had to walk a great distance on less than good ground hauling our things made the beginning of the event a real headache. We stood in a long line waiting to get our wine. The caterer could have used more help. That is a fact. Our friends rented the table package which was another mess! I envied them when they told me they did not have to carry any of their things and literally walked in empty handed until I watched them try to get their table out of a bag, unwrap chairs, and unwrap china and silverware, and then assemble everything. As we hurried to set up our table ( we were on an incline so that was also a challenge), get our wine, and try to catch up to a napkin wave that was over before we even put food on our plate is just poor planning by the organizers. That’s a fact. We were in an area of the park that had no light. Another fact. Our neighbor had a fiber optic centerpiece and was willing to move it in the middle so we could see each other and our food. The music and speaker system during dinner was terrible. From our vantage point we could only hear bits and pieces of the speeches and the speaker kept cutting out so the music was only on for a short time. I loved the free water but really would have liked bug spray – we were eaten up by mosquitos! When we finally settled in to eat it was time for the sparklers. Our leader could not find her bag of wands because it was dark so several of us turned our flashlights on on our phones. Thankfully the “sparklers” were fiber optic wands so while we did not get to start the sparkler moment we did get to turn our wands on and have some fun with them. Leaving was as much of a challenge as arriving. We took everything we brought but our friends got to get up and walk away. There was no one to tell them what to do with their things so they left them. Our leader was long gone. We walked around the park and danced, then stumbled across what looked like a VIP reception near the lake but it was too dark to really see what was going on so we too left. I’m sorry if you are offended by the comments that have criticized this event but from my opinion these comments have merit. I am sure a lot of work went into planning Diner en Blanc Baltimore but in it all someone forgot to think about the attendees and what they would be going through to attend this event. I’m sure there are lots of people who will come to another one and hopefully the organizers will take the comments and use them to make it a better event.

    1. You are entitled to your opinion, and I am entitled to mine. It is indeed unfortunate that you had the experience that you had, but in no way does it take away from my experience or what I saw from my vantage point. Your blanket statement seems to trivialize my perspective, and seeks to discredit my observations simply because of your experience. As some of the negative comments do have merit, so do my comments. As a volunteer who put in countless hours and time and made sacrifices to try to help make this event happen, I am offended that you would make a blanket statement suggesting that the attendees were not thought of. Ask a guest in Owings Mills if they feel the same. Was this event perfect? We both can agree that it was not. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. I can assure you the event hosts are already working to lay the groundwork to make DEB Baltimore 2018 even better and more enjoyable for attendees.

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