On Thursday, August 16, 2018, a record 5,500 guests attended the seventh annual Le Dîner en Blanc – Philadelphia at City Hall and Thomas Paine Plaza. Nearly a month after the event, CEO Report spoke with co-host Natanya DiBona about the pop-up party’s significance to the local economy.
Looking at another year of record attendance for Dîner en Blanc, why do you think the momentum for the event is particularly strong in Philadelphia?
I think there are several factors that keep people coming back year after year. First, would be the unique locations; there are so many beautiful spaces in the city of Philadelphia and that keeps the intrigue going. Plus, each year our team programs the event specifically to the location’s history or significance to the city. Last year’s Franklin Square location offered the opportunity to create a fun, carnival-like experience with a carousel, mini golf and playground. Similarly, The Avenue of the Arts allowed us to show off the arts in all forms, while incorporating the infamous Mummers.
There’s also the special experience of dining together; strangers coming together and doing their piece to create the event – it’s very powerful. There is a great sense of community, city pride and friendship that comes from the experience. It’s also a ton of fun! It’s an event that is hard to truly describe until you experience it, but I think pictures people post show the excitement and that makes others want to be a part of it.
We are fortunate to have the largest Dîner en Blanc in the U.S. with one of the highest guest return rates. I think it’s a testament to the experience our guests have and the tireless hard work of all our volunteers who plan and execute it.
In what ways does the event benefit the local economy?
Each year, we hold a Preview Party and we bring in local designers and boutique-owners so our guests can purchase items for the upcoming event. It’s a fashion-forward event, so guests often indulge and have a fascinator or hat made, or splurge on a new piece of jewelry or handbag to complete their look. Area boutiques and businesses will also turn their windows displays white in early August and we’ll promote them through social media, so it’s a really great partnership. Hair and beauty salons also see an increase in bookings as attendees get their hair, make-up and nails done for the special occasion.
Of course, it’s a foodie event as well, so our participants go to great lengths to create special meal that includes the perfect wine. For the attendees who are too busy to bring a meal, we partner with Feast Your Eyes Catering, which delivers pre-ordered meals to the secret location.
Lastly, our participants are traveling to the event, so it supports Septa, taxis and ride sharing companies. Many of our guests to choose to make a special evening of it by staying over in the city as well. Sofitel hosts our After Party each year and also offers a special room package to Dîner en Blanc guests.
Why did you choose to partner with Broad Street Ministry this year and what is the nature of the relationship?
Dîner en Blanc – Philadelphia is run by volunteers. Close to 160 volunteers helped us execute this year’s event, and the type of individuals who volunteer for us are also incredibly involved in other organizations throughout the city. Many of our volunteers have also volunteered at Broad Street Ministry, which was an organization that was on my radar for a while. However, it wasn’t until I saw the organization profiled on CBS Sunday Morning last fall, along with Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, that I really learned about their mission of “radical hospitality.” Their commitment to building community in the population they serve by bringing them together at a table for a meal really aligns with the mission of our event. I thought it was a perfect fit for this year’s charity auctions and when I brought it to our planning team, they all agreed.
Dîner en Blanc – International does not allow the event cities to specifically partner with one charity and we must adhere to this policy. However, since we began the event in 2012, we have always supported area nonprofit organizations by donating event tickets they could auction at their fundraisers. In addition to these donations, last year we began directly auctioning several spots to increase awareness of an organization who shared a similar mission to our event. Last year we chose the Fairmount Park Conservancy because of their mission to maintain so many of the beautiful spaces in our city and this year was Broad Street Ministry. One hundred percent of the proceeds from all of our auctions went to Broad Street Ministry.
Why should other organizers/business owners consider working with nonprofits? What are the benefits?
It’s exciting to support an organization whose mission aligns with yours, and there is a fulfillment that comes from helping others. Our team really rallied around this project and a lot of joy came from giving. Dîner en Blanc – Philadelphia will also have several days where our volunteers come together to do at a lunch service at Broad Street Ministry, so we’re continuing that relationship.