10 Tips for Diner en Blanc Beginners

I had the pleasure of attending my first Dîner en Blanc in Washington D.C. over the weekend. I've seen Facebook and Instagram friends attend the event in various cities over the years and for some reason, I never really looked into going. But thanks to a Twitter follower, I scored an invitation and was ready to pop my Dîner en Blanc cherry. 


The first Dîner en Blanc was in 1988, created by Frenchmen Froncois Pasquier. He invited a group of friends to an elegant outdoor dinner at Bois de Boulogne in Paris. He requested that they dress in all white so they could find each other. Since then, the event has grown to over 70 cities around the world with thousands of invitees. 

I did some things right this first time, but I definitely have some lessons learned. Here are my tips for a successful Dîner en Blanc experience:

1. Score an invite.

This is probably the hardest part of the whole event. Tickets are sold in phases that open for purchasing at different times. There are three ways to attend: by being part of the Hosts or Leaders’ personal network and getting invited by them (Phase 1); by knowing someone who registers during Phase 1 and asking them to sponsor you for Phase 2; or, by signing up to the waiting list and registering during Phase 3. The cost for D.C. was $40 plus a $9 membership fee. Tickets are purchased as a pair so be sure to have someone in mind to bring along with you, even though you are able to change your tablemate before the event.

Phase 1

During Phase 1, close friends of the organization, table leaders, previous attendees/members and volunteers are able to purchase tickets. Being a table leader is a huge undertaking and isn't for the faint of heart but if you're up for the challenge, you can sign up on the Diner en Blanc website. 

Phase 2

Friends invited by those in Phase 1 may purchase tickets. This may be your best bet for attending next year. Find someone who has gone in the past and ask them to invite you.

Phase 3

Phase 3 is for those on the waiting list. Create an account and register for the waiting list on the Diner en Blanc website for the city that you are interested in.

After registering, you will receive an email invitation a few weeks before the event letting you know the date and time. Please take note of the date and time that your tickets go on sale! If you've ever bought tickets for a Beyoncé concert, it's much like that. You need to be at your computer and ready to go when tickets go on sale! Tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Meeting Locations

There are several meeting locations around your chosen city. First, select the desired meeting location in your city, then select a group leader, and lastly a bus/table leader. Everyone must select the same bus/table leader in order to sit together at the event. Be sure you are choosing correctly because you are not allowed to change your location or table leader after your tickets are purchased.

*Pro Tip: While you can't change your location, you may be able to switch with people on other buses/tables on the day of the event.

2. Plan and pack light.

Plan, plan, plan! I can't stress this enough. Plan your menu and table decor. Trust me when I say that less is more. My friend and I decided to split the responsibilities - she was responsible for the table and decor and I was responsible for the food.

Food and Drink

  1. Bring your own. One of our neighbors paid for the eStore meal and it looked a bit...dry.
  2. All the blogs I read prior to attending said to bring three courses: appetizer, entree and dessert. I brought all three, but I think I brought too much. Our neighbors to the other side brought Chinese food - rice and some kind of meat/veggie topping. They had no clean up and no dishes to take back home, unlike me. My advice would be to either bring a lovely spread of various dishes or one item for each course, in disposable dishes of course.
  3. I pre-ordered wine (more on that later) when I purchased my tickets because outside alcohol is not allowed. But it seems like everyone had outside alcohol. You didn't hear this from me, but if you want to have a 'turned up' evening, be very discreet.

Table Decor

My friend is an event designer, so our table looked fab. Some people opted for less is more, while others had massive centerpieces. To each his own, but after lugging all of our belongings through 2 D.C. metro stations, next year we are absolutely opting for less.

3. Buy a portable table & have a cart.

You could definitely tell who has been in previous years and those who were beginners. The professionals had their chairs strapped in on a luggage cart and carried a "table in a bag" over their shoulders. Be sure to follow the rules on Dîner en Blanc's website for table and chair size. Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Table in a bag
  2. Shopping cart
  3. Luggage cart
  4. Folding chairs

4. Be on time to your meeting location.

We made it to our destination (barely) on time and traveled together to the event. However, some people did not make it to their meeting locations on time. Dîner en Blanc is "organized chaos" but everything was really well-orchestrated. As we were trying to set our tables up, some people were making their way through the crowd who I assume had missed their original meeting location because their group was already there since they had an earlier arrival time. It was a little annoying having to move out of the way while we were trying to set up because people were coming through with their life's belongings when they were already supposed to be there. 

5. Wear comfortable, flat shoes and don't forget to accessorize.

I always wear comfortable shoes these days because I'm happier when my feet aren't hurting (and so are the people around me). Some women brought their heels with them for the photo ops, but honestly, I didn't think it was necessary. It's just more junk for you to carry home.

Many of the women wore fascinators and pearls to jazz up their outfits. Other people wore costumes and had fun with the all-white theme. Dress however you like but remember to have fun!

6. Bring a portable phone charger.

You'll be snapchatting, instagramming, and facebooking to the high heavens. Your phone is guaranteed to die. Be prepared.

7. Talk to your table neighbors.

Because I was invited by a stranger, I didn't know anyone in the group including my table leader. We chatted with one side of our neighbors and even shared some of our food and drink. It just made for a better evening. 

8. Get your wine early.

The line was SO long for pre-ordered wine that I decided to get it later in the evening so I didn't miss dinner. I went to get it around 8 pm and they ran out of the rosé I ordered (don't understand how this happened when I pre-ordered it but that's a different story). They offered us two bottles of a white (horrible) wine but it just wasn't what I wanted. 

9. Don't miss the napkin wave or sparklers.

I was too busy looking to meet up with friends and missed the sparklers. I was sad but it was beautiful to witness. And the napkin wave happens throughout the evening. Be sure to bring cloth napkins to participate.


10. Come with an open mind and positive attitude.

I'm not going to lie. It's a lot of work. But having a positive attitude makes it that much better. It was a wonderful evening and I'm so happy to have attended. Thank you to Kim for inviting me! 

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Have you gone before and have more tips? Please be sure to share for next year's first-timers!



Recap: Essence Festival Durban 2016

Essence Magazine stepped it up a notch this year by not only hosting their famous Essence Festival in New Orleans, but by branching out internationally and hosting a second festival in Durban, South Africa. For the first-time ever, Essence Festival Durban kicked off in KwaZulu-Natal's beautiful city of Durban from November 8 - 13, 2016. Since I am currently in Zambia, I hopped right on over (and by hopped I mean a 5-hour travel time) to Durban to check out the inaugural festival. 

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying the following:

  1. I have attended Essence Fest in New Orleans before.
  2. I did not attend Essence Festival Durban in its entirety. I only attended the weekend events.

With those points in mind, on a scale of 1-10, I give the first Essence Festival Durban a 6.5. Here's why:

1. The musical guests were great.

While lesser known acts were scheduled beginning at 1 pm, Ne-Yo started the main show around 9 pm and performed for about 30-45 minutes. He sang his biggest hits and the crowd couldn't get enough. Personally, I was excited to see my favorite South African and Nigerian performers, including AKA, Wiz Kid, Cassper Nyovest and Black Coffee. Each of their performances was amazing. I loved that local talent was sourced for the Saturday night concert. It was a great way to put a South African stamp on the Essence Festival.

Concert stage

Concert stage

2. The convention center area reminded me of New Orleans.

There were several booths selling African merchandise, hair and diet products and much more. This was very similar to product offerings at the Convention Center in New Orleans. However, I could see this potentially being enhanced next year, as several of the booths were empty and I wasn't interested in buying many of the products.

Pavilion area

Pavilion area

3. There was a chic, functional pavilion area.

There were several food trucks offering various types of South African foods, as well as tables, chairs and a lounge area for patrons to relax and refuel. Of note, there was also a great bar station to buy cocktails, soft drinks and water. This was probably one of the more well-thought out areas at the Convention Center. While we were there enjoying our cocktails, there was a parade of Zulu people, which was exciting to see them in their traditional clothing.

Go DJ!

Go DJ!

Here's where it gets a little...less than stellar...

4. It was unorganized.

Before arriving at Essence Fest, there was no schedule available for events...at least not one I could find. While at the festival, someone told us that there was an Essence Festival Durban App containing all pertinent information, but it wasn't publicized at all. After we arrived at the Convention Center, it was very hard to tell where information sessions were taking place. And after getting to the designated area, sessions were running severely behind schedule. For example, we wanted to see Mama Tina (Beyonce's mom, duh) speak and her session was scheduled to start at 3:15 pm. We just happened upon her speaking on the main stage at 6:30 pm. That is a 3-hour delay! With such a tight schedule, it was very hard for patrons to plan accordingly.

Mama Tina and new friends

Mama Tina and new friends

5. It could use a few more (and better) headliners.

While Steve Harvey, Ne-Yo, Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary and others were supposed to attract crowds, that's not enough to make Americans want to cross an ocean. We can see them (and the likes thereof) at Essence Festival in New Orleans, the BET Experience or a host of other events that we don't have to pay an arm and a leg to attend.  While I do realize that entertainers have hectic schedules and making the long trip to South Africa may be difficult, it would be worthwhile to show some love to their international audiences. (Hint Hint: Beyonce!)

With a Zulu man

With a Zulu man

6. It didn't quite have that "Essence" feel...yet.

I can see why Essence wanted to expand the brand into South Africa, but the festival didn't have the same feel as its New Orleans counterpart. While it was the first year and there will naturally be a learning curve, I left a little underwhelmed by the organization and management of it all. However, I do believe that with a year or two more with practice, the festival will expand and be a major attraction to Durban like the festival is to New Orleans.

In case you're planning on attending next year, here are a few tips:

  1. Stay close to the downtown area. I've been to Durban twice and this most recent time, I stayed at Suncoast Towers, which was pretty central to most areas. The previous time I went I stayed in the Uhmlanga area, and while 15 minutes isn't far, it can get tiresome traveling to and from the Convention Center every day.
  2. Plan excursions outside of the festival. This is an opportunity to see more of Durban and perhaps even more of South Africa if your budget and vacation time can accommodate. Don't let the festival be the only thing you do while you're in South Africa.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes. This goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway. I ended up standing for about 7 hours waiting for and watching the performances. Be prepared for delays. 
  4. Bring an umbrella. It rained off and on all weekend. November is rainy season in Durban, so bringing an umbrella is imperative.

With all of that being said, I would definitely attend again. I am cutting Essence some slack because it was the first year and they were working out the kinks. This was the first year of a three-year partnership, so starting out at 6.5 isn't bad. There's only up from here!

Zulu Women

Zulu Women