Social media has probably told you about Dîner en Blanc—the pop-up dinner party that famously asks participants to outfit themselves elegantly in all white and schlep their own tables, chairs, centerpieces, and gourmet picnics to a location disclosed only shortly before kick off. It started in Paris 31 years ago and spread to more than 80 cities worldwide. D.C. held its first Dîner en Blanc in 2015.
Who would want to do this? Enough people to fill the Capital One Arena. According to D.C. co-host Bryer Davis, there were more than 35,000 people on the wait list for last year’s Dîner en Blanc that accommodated 5,000 attendees.
Dîner en Blanc will be back this summer, but it’ll have some competition. Enter Dîner en Noir, helmed by founder Howard N. Cromwell. While Cromwell has been hosting smaller-scale, private Dîner en Noir parities, the soiree set for July 20 will be the first event open to the public. He’s targeting 2,000 participants for his “cool, chic networking event.” They’ll be clad in (much more slimming) black attire.
“What we wanted to do is something similar to [Dîner en Blanc], but make sure we give back to the community we’re in,” says Cromwell. He’s based in D.C., but there are also Dîner en Noir events scheduled for other cities in 2019, including Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago.
“Dîner en Blanc has gotten some negative press that it’s very elitist and people come into the city and don’t give the city anything,” Cromwell continues. “We made it clear when we opened to the public that we’d be supporting the local community, specifically the arts and small business development.”
Cromwell says 25 percent of the net profits from Dîner en Noir will go to the Northeast Performing Arts Group and the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation.
Registration for Dîner en Noir opens May 20. People who are “friends of the organization,” having participated in previous events, and members get first dibs on tickets. It costs $51 to become a member online and your membership allows you to bring a guest to Dîner en Noir. If you’re able to get a spot, there are three price tiers to choose from.
The “Dining Experience” grants you access to the event. Attendees who opt for this level must bring their own square folding table (27″ x 27″ x 27″), two black chairs, a black picnic basket, a gourmet meal for two, a black tablecloth and cloth napkins, cutlery, dishware, glassware, a black transport cart, and a black garbage bag for trash. The cost is $110 for two people. Drinks are extra.
If you don’t want to bring anything but yourself, there are two options. The “Plated Experience” includes a catered three-course meal without drinks ($220 for two). The “Full Experience,” includes the same three-course meal, plus drink pairings and access to a VIP lounge ($360 for two). Cromwell hasn’t nailed down the caterer nor menu yet.
Dîner en Noir kicks off with cocktail hour with a cash bar from 4 to 5:30 p.m. followed by a seated dinner from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The after dinner party with DJs and dancing runs from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Math time! If you split the membership fee of $51 with your guest and purchase the most basic package that doesn’t include food, drinks, or a table set-up, Dîner en Noir will run you $80.50. Comparatively, it cost attendees $53 to attend Dîner en Blanc last year ($43 plus a $9 membership fee). The price shouldn’t fluctuate much this year, according to Davis.
Have people noticed how similar the events are, down to the secret location announced at the last minute?
“I’ve seen people on our Facebook page say, ‘You guys are copy-cats,’” Cromwell says. “But people who have thrown Dîner en Blanc events, the organizers, have been extremely supportive, saying, ‘We’d love to attend! Let’s get together so we can work on dates.’”
Cromwell says he wanted to host Dîner en Noir in the spring or fall, but it didn’t work out. Dîner en Blanc is always in the summer. The date should be announced after Memorial Day.
“I’ve only followed it on social media,” Davis says when asked if the competition was on her radar. “I don’t know a ton other than what they’ve posted there. I think it’s great to have the same concept with a different color. It’s all about the concept. Bringing people together in a secret location.”
Cromwell further explains how he’s trying make his event stand out. “We want to drive that this is a community-based event,” he says. “Attendees are supporting the local community in all of our host cities.”
Davis notes that Dîner en Blanc also engages with community organizations, but it’s a little trickier because Dîner en Blanc in D.C. is under the umbrella of a parent organization, Dîner en Blanc International.
“While Dîner en Blanc International is a for-profit business, with guidelines restricting charitable affiliations with individual city organizers, Dîner en Blanc – Washington, DC engages with local organizations to support their fundraising efforts within our community by donating tickets, including table, wine, and meal packages, to D.C.’s Dîner en Blanc events,” she says.