Dîner en Blanc International, the experiential pop-up dinner that has become the culinary event of the year in the U.S. and cities around the world, will return on Thursday, September 14, to New York City. The exact location is kept secret until the last minute. Guests meet at assigned departure locations throughout the city and are escorted to the venue by a Dîner en Blanc volunteer.
It’s quite a sight! Attendees, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, then meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space. Past locations have included Lincoln Center, Governors Island, Pier 26 at Hudson Park, and Bryant Park. Registration is now available until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, September 9th. Register on the Dîner en Blanc’s website.
Launched in France 35 years ago, the one-of-a-kind global phenomenon has become a beloved tradition across six continents, with each location injecting its own culture and culinary voice. More than one million people are on waiting lists worldwide, hoping to attend events that frequently sell out in a matter of days if not hours.
Sandy Safi is Dîner en Blanc International’s co-founder and owner. As a passionate entrepreneur with a drive for structuring, operating and leading businesses, Sandy specializes in the entertainment industry on a global scale, bringing her team management skills to areas like crisis management, sponsorship, negotiation, logistics, and production. Her entrepreneurial endeavors always draw inspiration from her culture, creativity, and dedication to finding unique ways of bringing people together.
Born in Beirut to a family of entrepreneurs, and relocating to Cyprus, Italy, England, the United States, and eventually settling in Canada, Safi’s international upbringing influenced her sense of culture and her adaptability to new environments. Starting out as a ballerina and performing with the Caracalla Dance Theatre, Safi also gained behind-the-curtain experience as a lighting assistant and stage manager. She added to that background working with such prominent international companies as the Los Angeles Opera, the Casino de Paris, and Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu. Safi also toured the U.S. with the Canadian troupe Cavalia before moving to Dubai and working at Peppermint Experience, organizing large-scale raves and concerts.
Throughout her career, Safi has advantaged her knowledge of branding, sponsor media exposure, and public relations. She has given talks at the Association of Destination Managements Executives and TEDxNYIT, and was awarded the Young Promoters Award (SAGE) and two Young Entrepreneur Awards—one from the Fondation Montréal Inc. and the other from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. Safi is also certified in Sustainable Event Management with the Quebec Standards Bureau.
In 2011, Sandy joined forces with Aymeric Pasquier to host the American premiere of the gourmet mass-picnic, Le Dîner en Blanc, in New York City. Because of its enormous success and increasing demands from cities all over the world to host the event, the pair co-founded Dîner en Blanc International in 2012. In 2022, Safi acquired 100% of the organization’s business interests, and continues to curate relationships among Le Dîner en Blanc hosts, sponsors, and partners in an ever-expanding global network, and promote and develop the brand around the world.
Woman Around Town had the opportunity to interview Sandy Safi about her career and Dîner en Blanc.
Dîner en Blanc New York 2022 (Irina Mason Photography)
When did you know you were destined to work in the business and entertainment industry?
I grew up performing, and the stage was really my second home, so it was natural for me to be in that environment. But only when I decided to stop traveling for work and got a “regular” 9 to 5 job that I realized I had to go back to what I knew best, and where I felt most “at home”: performing arts and entertainment. Having performed on stage, worked in lighting, stage management, production management, sponsorship for events and run large scale raves and concerts, I was pretty comfortable with many facets of the entertainment and performing arts fields and I was easily able to adapt to various positions and learn quickly.
You have a very impressive career. Can you tell me about a few of the memorable highlights?
Thank you, it’s been a natural progression from one thing to another in entertainment and performing arts. I have a thirst to learn new things, so at every opportunity to learn something new, I raised my hand and said I would volunteer or help out… this allowed me to touch on many things. It’s hard to decide on a memorable highlight because I feel like I’ve lived five lives already! Everything has been so amazing and I’m so blessed, even through all of the struggles and growing pains, every opportunity has been a great learning experience and unique in its kind.
Touring for a performing arts company as a dancer before I was 18 (seems like a million years ago), learning from Alan Burrett in stage lighting and management, was also filled with key moments. Once I had to support him in Barcelona at the Liceu Opera as he was delayed due to another engagement… and I felt such pressure to perform… These are key moments that shape a person. I was so stressed about not performing well enough, but by the end of the experience I was offered the opportunity to stay onboard! That experience is definitely engraved in my mind forever.
Dîner en Blanc New York, 2022 (Eric Vitale Photography)
Moving to Dubai to run Raves and concerts… but ending up in Qatar at age 28 alone to pull off Paul Van Dyke at the Intercontinental Hotel (I think it was the first rave on beachfront in the country!) and my entire team couldn’t make it due to Visa deadlines in the midst of Ramadan…I ended up pulling off most of the concert all alone (security, ticketing, production, artist management, F&B, sponsorship…) it was insane, I worked non stop. Again, somehow I made it through the end.
Another key moment was meeting my former partner and pulling off the first Dîner en Blanc in New York which is what launched the entire company globally as the The New York Times covered the event and people from four corners of the world started writing in to us asking to learn how to bring the brand to their city or country.
And the latest milestone: Purchasing 100 percent of Dîner en Blanc from my former partner and co-founder right in midst Covid and bringing the company back to life after a near two year hiatus. All, key moments.
It’s through the struggles that we grow.
Dîner en Blanc New York 2022 (Eric Vitale Photography)
What piece of advice can you give budding entrepreneurs?
Take smart risks if you believe in something, adapt and learn as best as you can, give 1000 percent daily, dream big, believe in your dreams and yourself and your team. Find ways to surround yourself with people you can learn from and grow.
What was the inspiration for creating Dîner en Blanc International?
Well after executing the NYC event and then receiving requests from all over the world from people wanting to “bring the event to their city,” we weren’t equipped to travel and produce events everywhere… so we created a licensing model to support local event producers to take the concept and the trademark to their own country. That has now given us the opportunity to create a global network of event goers, event producers, talent, and more.
Dîner en Blanc New York 2022 (Eric Vitale Photography)
Since it’s inception, Dîner en Blanc has grown enormously. What do you think is its universal appeal?
The event in itself is a concept that is cross generational, cross cultural… it’s people getting together to enjoy a meal and connect in person (in a world where now most connection is happening on social media, zoom, or Face Time… it’s a moment to bring people together around basic values of friendship and sharing… sometimes the simplest things are what memories and magic are made of.
It must be very rewarding to see so many people attending the event. Can you tell me some impressions that you have received from attendees?
Well its not a simple event to attend because you are a participant, not just an attendee…. Each participant is also contributing to their neighbor’s experience. This is part of what makes it so unique. It requires commitment. Some people may get overwhelmed by that at first as there are rules and guidelines, but by the end of the evening they get “it”… there is a reward to all of their dedication. The energy is contagious at the event.
Dîner en Blanc International is a worldwide phenomenon. How many events are involved and do you anticipate further growth?
Pre-covid we were nearing 100 events in 100 cities around the world. We are expecting to reach our pre pandemic levels next year and surpass them .We will also be opening new markets in Asia and Central America as well as the Arab world. But our growth isn’t simply focused on producing Dîner en Blanc events, it’s also about growing a global network and connecting people with the same passions for food, fashion, travel and tourism.
Can you share with us some of your plans for the future?
We are very excited to be launching our new website and ticketing tool which will allow people from various cities to connect together, get recommendations from each other, attend events in various cities together. It will be a global platform for our community.
We are also connecting with various interesting brands and talent and will have some exciting announcements coming soon.
Anything else, absolutely anything that you’d like Woman Around Town readers to know!
That Dîner en Blanc is a community that celebrates fashion, elegance, foodies but that it’s also a network of people that connect to each other and its a network of friends and supporters. Volunteering at the event is also a great way to connect in a more meaningful way to the brand and also make friends… lots of our volunteers and our attendees travel from city to city to attend the events and return year after year. Many meaningful connections, long lasting friendships and great memories are made when people gather. Also, that we have probably one of the most culturally diverse events I’ve ever seen, we very proudly have attendees from all ages, backgrounds, and communities. Finally, from one woman focused group to another, Id like to let them know that the company is now a fully woman owned business, happy supporting other women in business as well.