Dîner en Blanc Angst Is Apparently Unique to Philadelphia

Sandy Safi of Dîner en Blanc International: "It’s a Philly thing."

Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia 2016. Photo | HughE Dillon

Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia 2016. Photo | HughE Dillon

Last week Philadelphia’s fifth Dîner en Blanc event went off without a hitch on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as thousands gathered to celebrate the French tradition, and a few others took to social media to ask why in the world they would want to.

Some questioned the cost, or more specifically, where that money could elsewhere be spent. Others took issue with the dress code. Still others questioned the choice to purchase a ticket to an event that requires you to BYO-everything, including a chair.

Other corners of social media boasted a great time, and even a marriage proposal. The haters were seemingly outnumbered by those who attended and those who hoped to. Of 70 cities hosting events this year, Philadelphia is the only one to have implemented a lottery system for the waiting list, similar to the one used for the Broad Street Run, after their website crashed last year from an overwhelming number of registrants.

In the past five years Dîner en Blanc has rapidly spread around the globe, with volunteers hosting their own events in top-secret locations that showcase the most spectacular corners of their cities. And the haters? According to Sandy Safi, co-founder of Dîner en Blanc International, they all live in Philadelphia.

“Worldwide I’ve never seen the type of Philadelphian reaction anywhere else,” Safi told Philadelphia magazine. Criticism in other cities is typically limited to logistical complaints, or something going wrong, not the event itself. “I don’t see this in Australia I don’t see it in New Zealand, I don’t see it in Toyko. I don’t see it in Paris, Hong Kong, anywhere in Canada.”

Originally from Canada, Safi launched a Dîner en Blanc event in New York City five years ago and began receiving requests from all over the world.

“We don’t know the city, we don’t know the cultures,” Safi said. “We know the event. What we did is work with teams locally who know the city, who know the vibe, who bring the Philadelphia flair and the Philadelphia style.”

That’s where Natanya DiBona and Kayli Moran come in. Fans of the event after attending in other cities, the two decided to bring it home to Philadelphia. Both said that the city administration has welcomed the event with open arms, even if every city resident doesn’t.

“I think any event or any sort of activity that happens in this city, there’s always people who believe or are interested in the event and then there’s people who have no interest in it,” Moran told Philadelphia magazine.

“When Kayli and I assess the event it’s always ‘what’s the customers’ satisfaction’ and ‘what’s the city or venues’ satisfaction’,” DiBona explained. “And both of those were off the charts this year. It was a success beyond measure. So to read people trolling on it without having any valid point was just surprising.”

“It’s a Philly thing,” Safi declared. “But what makes it really odd or funny or special in a sense, is that Philly is still the most successful, or one of the most successful events.”

For Safi, the transcendence of Dîner en Blanc beyond cultural and national lines is because it caters to human nature. “How does it go from France to Japan to wherever? Its because age-wise and culture-wise, there are no boundaries. People love to get together and have a meal and celebrate regardless of if they’re from Tokyo or from Philadelphia. It’s what they do. It’s at the heart of our lives, sharing a meal and getting to know people and enjoying the spaces that you live in.”

Maybe hearts are just made a little bit differently in Philadelphia.