The Problem with Diner en Blanc

I remember last year when I first heard about Diner en Blanc (or if you prefer, Dîner en Blanc), it sounded interesting. A pop-up picnic where everyone wore white. This year’s Cincinnati event was described on their Facebook event page as “This très chic picnic, imported from Paris, is equal parts mystery tour, pop-up feast and je ne sais quoi.”

Then we learned more about it. For the cost of $35 a person, you got the “privilege” of eating your own food and drink (that you brought with you) plus you had to bring your own table and chairs (only white and certain sizes, of course). And you had to bring all of this on a bus and then haul it to the secret location. Okay…

But it raises money for a great charity, right? So it’s worth it, right? Guess again. The FAQ on the Diner en Blanc website lists the following information:

Is the Dîner en Blanc associated with a humanitarian or social cause?
What makes the Dîner en Blanc so popular is that it’s a “distinct” evening. There are no sponsors, no political or ideological agendas. Le Dîner en Blanc is simply a friendly gathering whose sole purpose is to experience a magical evening, in good company, in an environment which is both unusual and extraordinary.

It’s that last part that got me: “in an environment which is both unusual and extraordinary.” Last year’s Diner en Blanc surprise location was Lytle Park, right outside the Anna Louise Inn. This year, it was in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. It’s a wonderful park, but it’s also a stone’s throw away from people struggling to survive and barely able to afford food. Someone I know who attended Diner en Blanc later said, “What bothers me… is that I didn’t leave feeling like, ‘Wow! What a great event!’ I left feeling like, ‘Wow. I feel really dirty and shallow.'”

I made the decision not to attend mainly because it sounded like it was going to be a royal pain in the butt. But, looking back, I decided I needed to do something about how I felt. So today, I made a donation to the Drop Inn Center in the amount of $35. And in the Dedication section of the online form, I wrote this:

“Instead of going to Diner en Blanc, I’d rather see the money make a difference in Cincinnati.”

By that one simple act, I am experiencing a magical evening knowing that I am making a difference in Cincinnati. I would love it if you joined me.

[By the way, while researching this blog post, I discovered that there’s also Dîner en Blanc – Haïti. Wow…]

15 Replies to “The Problem with Diner en Blanc”

  1. My friend Jason wrote a thought-provoking Facebook update about this very event:

    “I’m not sure white people should wear all white and gather in secret.”

    Definitely not my bag, that’s for sure.

  2. I love this more than I can describe and I’m soooo happy to know I wasn’t the only one who thinks this is ridiculous. I was invited last year and was dumbfounded as to WHY I would attend. Even the language of the invite was glaringly shallow and pretentious. I just don’t get it. Great post and great alternative event!

  3. You nailed it… “How cool are we?” Another “food event,” ho-hum. And not even any real focus on the food.

  4. I went last year and attended this year. We all have our own opinions in why to attend or not to. I am glad you have your views on why not to attend but you ask your self why you would spend 35 dollars on bringing your own supplies. Should I list the items that mere 35 bucks went to? DJ, Italian singers and band for diner, jugglers, flower arrangements, lighting, the 40 charter buses, renting the venue and so on. Mind you have you seen the price of renting a bus, its not cheap! Nothing in the world is free. You say you feel better not going to diner and would rather donate that, Good God thank you for helping someone less fortune but are you going to feel guilty every time you eat out? I bet you spend more money eating out a month than you would have going to diner? Donate money every time you buy something you really don’t need. Donate money every time you throw away leftovers. You say those that go to diner are Marie Antoinette and her pretty little cakes, dude Marie only wish she partied like that! Yes we sit down and have a beautiful diner but we party hard and enjoy our self’s! We are not better than anyone else nor does anyone think that. We just like to be unique… why criticize for that? Why make the racist remarks of white people shouldn’t dress in white? Please let me inform you that there were a diverse amount of people there and if you can be that shallow as to make comments like that you were better off not attending an event like that. Please let me review this, You think your so great for making a donation instead of attending a wonderful event? Bet you waste money else where. You make raciest comments, grow up! Then you classify us as Marie Antoinette and her pretty little cakes… you have no idea till you attend. People of all size, age (over 21), sex, sexuality and skin colors attend. This just seems like a shallow post to me with shallow comments..

  5. Carla,

    I agree with your sentiments. I asked publicly of my friends what the evening was for, if it was a simple evening of elegance or more. I didn’t get a lot of responses. I would never judge my friends for going to such an event. It’s just not for me. I was a little disheartened that the event had not agenda whatsoever besides what it simply states.

    I will absolutely join you in your donation.


  6. Bravo for a thoughtful post! I agree with your comments on the how/why of Diner en Blanc. I can’t see the point of it, and followed your lead in making a donation that positively impacts our community. But, I understand that for some people, it is a chance to “experience a magical evening, in good company, in an environment which is both unusual and extraordinary”. To them I say, enjoy the schlep and hope it was worth it.

  7. I completely agree with the first half of Steph’s comment. Not when she gets all preachy like pretty much every other comment here… And she does make a point about you would spend that much to go to a nice restaurant, BUT… what gets me is the amount of people that are complaining and whining about “not getting it” (you aren’t the first, won’t be the last) who have not gone!!

    It’s one thing if you went, had a miserable time, and then came home to complain about it. Thats fine, you tried it, you hated it, everyone can move on… But the amount of people this year that have complained!!! about not getting it is astounding. Where were these people last year? I’m wondering if a few are bitter that they didn’t make it on to the list (yes i’m aware how snobbish that sounds, but I’m grasping as straws here to wrap my head around it…)

    But yes, the childish comments here are a little much. Are we not adults? And the event was only about 60% white people, for whoever decided that comment needed thrown out there. So yeah, if you want to throw your bigoted comments out there thats fine, but at least be informed (PS Carla this is more directed at the comments and not so much your post just an fyi 🙂 )

  8. The more you do for yourself, the more you do for others – there is no moral barometer of righteousness – the key is to always be true, be kind and be curious.

  9. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a venue in which self-perceived elites mingle invented by a culture known for its snobbery – the French. One of the posters above said that it was a chance to “be unique”. Dressing up in white with everybody else is not what I call “being unique”. If the day comes when I receive an invitation, I’ll politely decline and have a grill-out with real friends (as opposed to fake friends typically found at private dinners). Now that’s fun!

  10. Their 2015 event in whistler was held at a lakes side public park and playground. It blocked a portion of the valley trail next to the play ground where many residents use to get home. Several men blocked my 2 & 1/2 yr old daughter from playing on the swing. This is one of the few activities a 2 yr old has to look forward to at a resort where most activities either require or are geared towards an age older than 2. I hope people attending this event feel good that this event’s exclusions ban a child from a public park as she walks away in tears. Bravo!
    In hindsight I wish I had kept going to the play ground and forced them to drag my 2 yr old, the infant in my arms and myself away from the park, instead of allowing them to make my daughter cry.

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