Philadelphia's Dîner à la Mode

It is no secret Philly is experiencing a cultural renaissance. As the site of our Founding Fathers' greatest hits, this city will always draw history-hungry crowds, but in recent years a perfect storm of enlightenment has exponentially increased the City of Brotherly Love’s cool factor.

To wit, Travel + Leisure bestowed top honors on Philadelphia in 2011 for its overall cultural scene, which took into account much more than just the appeal of historic attractions. I could rattle off a number of examples of excellent opportunities for enrichment—not the least of which is a visit to the recently opened Barnes Foundation—but my personal pick for a hip summer happening is the Parisian-imported secret event, Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia.

Diner en Blanc Paris 2011 Notre Dame
Photography: Philip Menke

Dîner en Blanc started as a casual reunion for a small group of Parisian friends, who all wore white (hence the “blanc”) to ensure easy recognition of one another. That was 1988. In 2012, tens of thousands of white-clad revelers will attend private, pop-up picnics at to-be-disclosed, iconic locations in 24 cities across the globe—including Philadelphia on Aug. 23.

Joining the Dîner—which is part impromptu dinner party, part top-secret scavenger hunt and part elegant soiree—takes a lot of enthusiasm and quite a bit of determination, as there are a number of steps to take and rules to follow to attend (and get an invitation to return the following year). Fortunately, my zeal for a good time, especially one that involves food and anything French, is only outweighed by my tenacity. For those who do feel some trepidation at the thought of wait lists, picnic packing and heading out to dine in an unknown location, here’s what I’ve gleaned:

Read Up
The original Parisian Dîners were only publicized via word of mouth, but the American versions are managed online and facilitated by social media, making information highly accessible. Visit the Dîner Philly website, blog, Facebook page and Pinterest board.

Sign Up
It may seem confusing at first, but signing up to take part in the Diner can be simple. Go to the Dîner Philly website to register for the waiting list, which is currently the only option available. Once you register, you’ll receive communication via email acknowledging your placement on the wait list and a disclaimer about spots being available on a first come, first served basis. If spots are still free, you will receive your invitation to join the Dîner 48 hours prior to the opening of each particular registration phase.

Choose a Group
Once you’ve received your invitation, you’ll be able to choose a group leader and a pedestrian leader online. These are the folks who will eventually lead you to the secret spot and will also be the diners around you. Find out which of your friends are already registered, and see if spots are available in their groups, though I imagine all the participants will be friends by the end of the evening. To complete registration, attendees also pay $60 per couple, which includes a membership fee ($5), public transportation to the event, and various and sundry amusements (like sparklers!).

Follow the Rules
Not only do we Dîner participants have to dress all in white, we are to also pack up a gourmet picnic, bring a folding table and white chairs, and clean up after ourselves. Breaking the rules comes with the ultimate penalty: no invitation to next year’s Dîner en Blanc. Sacrebleu!

Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia
When: Thursday, Aug. 23, 6:30 pm
Where: TBD
Cost: $60 per couple
More info: