It's combination flash mob and pop-up picnic, intended to provide a midsummer night's communal experience to 1,300 people who have signed up to dress in white and dine and dance till midnight.
Dîner en Blanc, which a whimsy-seeking Parisian launched in 1988 with just a handful of friends, will make its Philadelphia debut Aug. 23; it sold out last week.
Dîner en Blanc's location is secret until just before mealtime, when guides lead attendees - carrying their own tables, chairs, food, wine, and picnic fixings - to the outdoor venue, selected because of its visibility and access to public transit. In keeping with Dîner en Blanc's social nature, guests are expected to pack up and leave the spot as they found it. They pay $59 for a table for two, which helps defray costs including a special-event permit and the services of Hot Club Philly, a band, and DJ Bruce, a disc jockey.
Guests for the Philadelphia event got a taste of the setup earlier this month at the Williams-Sonoma store at the Bellevue, where vendors displayed ideas for table settings and attire; sponsors Williams-Sonoma, Four Seasons Hotel, and Le Bec Fin will award prizes for the most elegant tables and attendees.
Co-organizer Natanya DiBona - inspired to help run the Philadelphia event after she learned of it from her aunt in Montreal - said she found the perfect portable table at Aldi.
For guests who don't feel like packing their own dinner, Jose Garces' catering company accepted orders for dinners ($55 and $65 per couple) that will be delivered to the site.
Dîner en Blanc is up to a dozen cities throughout Europe and North America. In Paris alone, it's taken over the Pont des Arts, the Eiffel Tower site, the Louvre Pyramid, the Trocadéro Esplanade, Place Vendôme, the Château de Versailles, the Esplanade des Invalides, the periphery of the Place de l'Étoile, the Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre Museum, and last year, the Plaza of Notre Dame basilica.
Daniele Thomas Easton, a French consul based in Philadelphia, called the evening "incredibly elegant." She wore a white gown, packed up a table, chairs, linens, cutlery, a candelabra, a supper of poached fish, caviar, cheese, dessert, and a bottle of Clairette de Die, and attended a 2008 Dîner en Blanc on the Champs-Élysées - which is typically off-limits to interlopers. "The police see us, but there is nothing they can do. There's no way they can arrest us all," said Easton, who is not an organizer of the Philadelphia event.
"Cars whooshed by and they are looking at you - 'what is that big celebration?' " she said. At the end of the evening, attendees wave sparklers, which she called a "stunning sight."
The entire area was clean afterward, she said. Asked why she believed everyone complied with the rules, she said: "When you are in white, you behave better."
Each event has sold out. For the American premiere, in New York in 2011, more than 30,000 people joined a wait list in hopes of securing one of the 1,300 spots. For 2012, Dîner en Blanc will be held in 20 cities from Barcelona to Singapore, from Montreal to Sydney. In the United States, nine cities, including Las Vegas, will host Dîner en Blanc.