A couple of months ago, I was out bowling at The Painted Pin in Atlanta with a friend who asked me if I’d ever heard of Dîner En Blanc, the world’s largest dinner party. He then told me that he was working on bringing this exclusive dinner to the city for the first time and that I should keep my calendar open for this fun-filled “all-white” affair.
After our conversation, I started hearing more and more about this secret event. One of my friends from Maryland told me she missed the dinner in Washington, D.C. at Yards Park and that she wanted to make sure she was at the Atlanta one. From there, I started asking more questions because as the weeks went by, everyone in town was hoping to receive an invitation to Dîner En Blanc.
It all started in 1988 when Parisian François Pasquier wanted to host a dinner party to catch up with friends. When a sizable amount confirmed attendance, he told everyone to meet at the Bois de Boulogne (a park near the 16th arrondissement) outfitted in white so they could easily identify each other among the crowd.
And from there, the pop-up Paris picnic began to take shape in other cities all over the world. It’s been held stateside in places like New York City (at Nelson A. Rockefeller Park), Philadelphia (on the Avenue of the Arts) and Los Angeles (on Rodeo Drive) to international locations, including Sydney, Jerusalem and Johannesburg — totaling more than 50 cities worldwide with Miami as next month’s location.
Here’s how it works: The first wave of invites goes out to people who are selected by the Dîner En Blanc hosts, and the next group of invitations is sent to anyone who was referred by a Dîner En Blanc member (you become a member once you attend a dinner or sign up for a membership). The last and largest group of possible invited guests is made up of those who have emailed Dîner En Blanc to be placed on a waiting list (Atlanta’s waiting list had some 2,000 people). And should you be lucky enough to receive an email allowing you to register for the dinner party, that will be followed up by another email citing detailed instructions from your designated group leader with tips on making this process go smoothly.
What process you ask? You are responsible for transporting your own food (though you can opt to order; more on that below), table, chairs, plates, place settings and more. There’s just one rule: Everything has to be white. Oh, and you don’t know where you’ll be picnicking. You just show up to the designated spot and then will be taken via a bus to a public landmark to celebrate an evening with friends and complete strangers.
I received my invitation from Dîner En Blanc Atlanta’s partner Moët & Chandon. So my process was a little different from others because I didn’t have to do anything aside from show up to the meeting place at 5:50 p.m., which for me was TWELVE Atlantic Station (its sister hotel is Forbes Travel Guide Recommended TWELVE Centennial Park), in all-white attire. Other meeting spots around the city included Park Tavern, Grant Park and Chastain Park. Once your group leader tells you it’s time to get on the bus, or in my case, walk to the location, the festivities commence.
The mystery dinner was held at the city’s Millennium Gate, and as the 700-some people strolled over with their tables and chairs and started to set up, all I kept thinking was, “Tonight is going to be magical.” And indeed it was. Women donned white fascinators and men came in their finest button-down white Oxford shirts and designer jackets. Pop-up event planner Rufin Tshinanga, CEO of Popplr (and my bowling nemesis), spearheaded the efforts to bring Dîner En Blanc to Atlanta alongside event producer Cleveland Spears and Sandy Safi, co-founder of Dîner En Blanc International. “We looked at many locations, but Millennium Gate was the one that we really liked especially for the art. It’s a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. And since this is a French-inspired event, we thought it would be perfect for the Atlanta debut,” Tshinanga says.
He started preparing for this event in November, but it was only recently that the ball really started rolling. “We officially moved forward with producing this event 30 days before. The mayor’s office was very helpful in getting the permits through,” he says. “The city has to embrace it.”
The French-speaking event planner has lived in Atlanta for the past 20 years, and he wanted to bring something unique to the city. “Dîner En Blanc brings people from all different walks of life together. Plus, it opens the doors for you to make new friends along the way,” he says.
As live music from crooner Sarrah-Lisa Alexis, piano player Noah Time and saxophonist Allan Knighton serenaded dinner-goers, my brown bag of food arrived to my table and so a friend and I started to unpack the Southern menu that was prepared for us by Atlantic Station’s newest restaurant, The Pig & The Pearl. It included tasty items such as hand-torn potato salad with smoked tomato and green onions, Berkshire smoked ham with cheddar biscuits, duck and pork country pâté with beer mustard and pickled onions, pumpkin cheesecake and more. All of this delicious food was accompanied by a magnum of Moët Ice Impérial — the world’s first champagne that’s meant to be savored over ice. It tasted sweet, light and fresh.
Guests could also choose from either a French (including smoked salmon, chopped egg, capers, bagel chips and a ham-mousse-filled profiterole) or vegetarian menu (think field pea hummus, spicy olive tapenade, buttermilk lavash to grilled vegetables with Dijon honey vinaigrette) prepared by The Pig & The Pearl’s chef Todd Richards and chef de cuisine Brian Carson. And as people ate and began chatting it up with their tablemates, the beauty of midtown Atlanta and its skyline came to life.
Some locals like Nicole Symmonds brought homemade honey-bourbon-infused cupcakes to accompany dishes such as fried chicken, chickpea salad, potato salad, sesame noodles and a cheese plate purchased from Star Provisions, where executive chef Anne Quatrano (of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Bacchanalia) helms the kitchen. “When I received my Dîner En Blanc invite, I knew the food had to be as amazing as I knew the event itself would be,” Symmonds says. “So I intentionally created a menu that reflected Dîner En Blanc’s new Southern location and incorporated foods that both my guests and I love.”
Around 9 p.m., sparklers were lit and revelers either took to the dance floor or moved around from their designated seats to mingle with other people. The party continued till about 10:30 p.m. and then everyone packed up his or her belongings and headed home by 11 p.m. After posing in the Moët photo booth and jamming to tunes like “The Tide Is High,” we all left with a sense of pride in our community as well as newfound friends.
Tshinanga says within the next three weeks, he and his team will start looking at new locations for Atlanta’s next Dîner En Blanc. But this time, it will be held in the spring and as always, the location will be kept a secret until the day that the popular pop-up event will be held. For more about Miami’s dinner next month (and other city pop-ups), keep scouring the Dîner En Blanc website until details are released and be sure to register for the waiting list.