I Love My Job: Meet the Two Women Behind Philly’s Dîner en Blanc

With less than a month before the big event, the passionate planners explain why people either love to love the all-white affair or still just love to hate it.

Philly Diner en Blanc organizers Natanya DiBona (L) and Kayli Moran (R) | Photo by Sean Corbett

Philadelphia’s 7th annual Diner en Blanc is less than a month away and the event’s two passionate organizers — Natanya DiBona and Kayli Moran — are knee deep in planning. They’re at the point where frantically waking up at 4 a.m. to send emails about random details, from logistics to menus, is the norm. This year, the event will happily pack in 5,500 people who want to dine in white at a secret location that’s revealed just moments before the event commences. DiBona and Moran explain the great allure of Diner en Blanc and why so many people either love to love it or love to hate it. Keep reading for some hot clues about where Diner en Blanc will land next month.

I grew up… right outside Philadelphia. (Natanya) I grew up in Phoenix. (Kayli)

The most interesting class I ever took was… American Studies. It hooked me, and I became a double major after I took that first class. (Natanya) Mine is World Religion. (Kayli)

The best place I’ve ever traveled to is… Paris. I was actually just there for our 30th anniversary event. It was my second time there, and it was amazing. A group of 250 people from Philadelphia went, but 17,000 people were at the event from around the world. (Natanya) For me, there are too many countries to name that I’ve been to and there are too many countries I haven’t been to either. I really can’t pick a favorite. (Kayli)

Diner en Blanc Franklin Square 2017 | Photo by Kory Aversa

A big misconception about Diner en Blanc in Philly is… I’d say there are two. One is that it’s elitist, which it’s not. We don’t select people. People register. It’s not a choice that we’re making in any way. It’s just a number that’s based on how many spots we have available to register. Another misconception is the budget for the event — that we don’t pay for resources that we use in the city whether it’s police officers or trash cleanup or renting a space. People think because it’s in the public it’s free. (Natanya)

A hint about where this year’s event will be is… it’ll be in Philadelphia! (Natanya) You stole my answer, but I guess I can give another. It will be outdoors, rain or shine. [Laughs] (Kayli)

The most random thing we’ve ever witnessed at a Philly Diner en Blanc is… the year we were on Avenue of the Arts, Broad Street. We had so many nods to the location in our programming, but we didn’t know how to acknowledge the Broad Street Run. We came up with a couple of thoughts but then we just never did anything. Then the event came and a running group dressed in white came through as if on cue. They totally planned it, and we had no idea. I would say that is the most random, and most perfectly executed thing that we had nothing to do with. (Natanya)

Yeah, that was definitely the most exciting random thing. But there are always interesting things that kind of happen before or after the event, like lots of proposals or random dancing (Kayli).

Ben Franklin at Philly’s 2017 Diner en Blanc.

The allure of Dîner en Blanc is… I think it’s the surprise location. And it’s also social media. People who go share all of these great pictures. And their experiences make more people want to go. (Natanya)

I know some people where this is literally the one night out of the year where they will leave their kids with a babysitter and go out and party. I think one of the great things about the Philadelphia event is that it’s not just one and done. People don’t just go for one year to get that Instagram picture, but they keep coming back every year. It’s a surreal experience of dining outdoors with thousands of other people in a location that you wouldn’t normally be able to have this type of experience in. It’s not like we are throwing a gala in a fancy venue that people have been to for numerous weddings or fundraisers. We close down Broad Street. We were dining on the JFK Bridge. How many people get to do a three-course meal dressed in white with sparklers and music and dancing in these locations? (Kayli)

The growth we’ve experience over the years is… incredible. Last year we became the largest Diner en Blanc in the country. And something we learned last year is that people from outside of Philly traveled specifically to Philly to attend the event. (Natanya)

We’ve definitely grown more than is ideal for an event that is run by volunteers, but we haven’t grown as large as the people on our waiting list want us to be. (Kayli)

Something we’re doing differently this year is… celebrating the international aspect of the event a bit more since it’s Diner en Blanc’s 30th anniversary. Philadelphia is a very international city, so we’re tying that in a bit. Our caterer this year, the same one as last year, has developed a variety of menus to reflect our international presence. (Natanya)

Philly’s first Diner en Blanc at Logan Circle | Photo: Georgi Anastasov

Something we take into consideration when picking a location for this event is… whether the location has an interesting story. That’s first and foremost, and our selection has little to do with “where we can fit.” From the beginning, we picked Logan Circle because of its French design, for example. We were very thoughtful that year and every year since then we try to highlight another part of the city and program to it. (Natanya)

I’ve been involved in event planning… ever since I was little. It came very naturally. I was always doing a tea party or something. But when I went to Franklin & Marshall I really got involved to try to make a difference in our community. (Natanya) I’ve been planning events starting since high school prom, all the way through college and through work. (Kayli)

We became Philly’s Diner en Blanc organizers… back in 2011, when the founder’s son, who had been running the event in Montreal, decided to bring it to New York. I heard about the New York event in an article posted in The New York Times and signed up for the waiting list. Meanwhile, Natanya’s aunt in Montreal had been telling Natanya about this all-white picnic. So Natanya was hearing about this Montreal event, while I was hearing about the New York event and both of us were kind of thinking, “Hey, this would be great for Philadelphia!” So we found a Philadelphia Diner en Blanc Facebook page and basically stalked it for a while, offering to help volunteer. Next thing we know, we are on a conference call with the international headquarters letting us know that they look for local hosts in every city and, surprise, if we wanted this position, we could have it! (Kayli)

If we weren’t doing this, we would be… that’s tough because my answer is “everything else.” I’ve had the blessing of meeting so many interesting people through this, and it’s led me to the other organizations where I’m involved. (Natanya)

If I weren’t doing this, I would probably be doing a lot more planning and fundraising galas for non-profits, which is what I used to do in my past job. But, this helps satisfy my event-planning bug. (Kayli)

The perfect Dîner en Blanc basket would consist of… the first thing that popped into my mind was cured meats and stinky cheeses from Di Bruno Brothers. Or, I mean, Chipotle. [Laughs] We kind of like to keep it simple because we realized when we’ve gone to New York and Montreal that the more details you invest, the harder it is for you to carry some items. (Kayli)

Photo: Georgi Anastasov

The hardest part about planning the event is… managing expectations. A lot of people have this conception that it’s run by a large event planning company, not so much that this is a bunch of people who do it because it’s a labor of love. We want the experience to be positive and great for everyone, but it’s hard to please everyone. We do surveys after the event and take into consideration all the feedback when planning for the following year. We look at things from every perspective like, who’s going to feel isolated here and what’s the downside of this or that, and certain things are just beyond our control sometimes. We try to encourage people to move around at the event, to fully experience it. Last year, we sent out a map to people so they could see everything that Franklin Square had to offer and that it was all open to them. (Kayli)

The best career advice I’ve ever been given is… about the power of networking. It sounds generic but building and maintaining relationships is so important. (Natanya)

A big lesson I’ve learned from planning this event is… how great the City of Philadelphia is. Specifically, the managing director’s office, the State Department, police, SEPTA and Parks and Rec. In talking with other hosts in other cities, we’ve realized that we have a really great relationship with the city and a city that is very open to new ideas such as Diner en Blanc. (Kayli)

Something we splurge on is… food. Whenever I look at my budget and where my money is going, it’s usually on food because Philadelphia has such a great food scene. I used to work in University City and there are a lot of amazing food trucks around there. I just love eating. (Kayli)

I do too! I’d say it would be on experiences, and often a lot of them are around food. A fun road trip, something that provides a unique and interesting experience. (Natanya)

A guilty pleasure of mine isReal Housewives of New York or Southern Charm. (Natanya) I’d say mine is reading Harry Potter when I could and should be doing something else. (Kayli)

Our favorite spots for dinner in Philly are… I always love Vernick, Parc, Townsend, Fork, and I just went to Suraya for the first time last week. Have you been there yet? Oh my god! It is incredible! I fell in love with it instantly. (Natanya)

My go-to recommendations for anyone coming into the city are Giorgio on Pine for a BYO, Vernick for a nice, fancy experience and Sampan for happy hour. (Kayli)

Photo: Du Soleil Photographie. Moran and DiBona with volunteers.

We wish we had more time to…enjoy summer activities a bit more. Every year the summer passes me by because we’re planning. (Natanya)

At the event I wish I had more time to interact with our volunteers. Natanya and I just love our volunteers and there are so many friendships that have been formed. We love seeing them year after year and at various events in between Diner en Blanc, but it just gets hard to sit down and have conversations with everyone. I really wish I had more time for relationships in general.(Kayli)

In the month leading up to the event… our day-to-day is us exchanging emails and text messages at 4 a.m. I know it’s Diner en Blanc season when I start waking up at 4 a.m. and somehow I send Natanya an email and she responds right back. (Kayli) That definitely happened just today. [Laughs] (Natanya)

In five years, we hope the event will… I mean, obviously, still be around and being fabulous. We have a long list of places that we want to use. Depending on construction and development, we realign the list every year to see what the options are. In five years, I hope we’re in one of those great locations that we’ve been thinking about. (Natanya)

Yeah, I hope it’d be on the Ben Franklin Bridge but… [Laughs] I hope it’s going strong and that we still have that group of people from the first year, and the second and third year who keep coming back because of something they love. (Kayli)