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!