Diner En Blanc Left Some Participants Fuming Over Long Wait For Boats: Gothamist
Every year, huge numbers of New Yorkers convene for the wildly popular, medium-mysterious, BYO-dinner table event, Diner en Blanc. Thousands of participants sporting crisp whites and packing elaborate decorations look forward to a night of outdoor feasting, dancing, and Instagram flaunting. This year, however, many attendees were subjected to frustrating delays as they tried to reach the event’s location: Governors Island. The addition of a seafaring component to the night’s schedule reportedly left huge numbers of participants stranded in Battery Park for hours, waiting on ferries that took their sweet time showing up.
Some partygoers have described this year’s Diner en Blanc as “a hot mess,” “a logistic nightmare,” and according to attendee Erica Leary, others even went so far as to call it “the Fyre festival of NYC.”
Leary attended her second Diner en Blanc last night—which allegedly boasted a 45,000-person waitlist this year. Typically, groups assemble at an appointed meeting place, from which they’re shepherded en masse to the undisclosed event location. Leary tells Gothamist that her cohort met her at Zuccotti Park at 5 p.m., and they traveled down to Battery Park to board the ferry. When they arrived around 5:45 p.m., however, they found that things had gone off the rails: What looked like thousands of people were standing around waiting for boats to Governors Island. That wait would stretch on for over two more hours.
“I don’t think we got on a boat until after 8 o’clock, so the dinner had already been going on for a couple hours before we even got there,” she recalls. “It was a lot of frustration. A bunch of people left because they’d just had enough of it … and some people even decided that they were going to set up their tables right down there,” while waiting for the ferry. That enterprising group met cheers from the crowd as they waved their napkins in the air, mimicking the Diner en Blanc tradition that classically kicks off the meal.
Honestly, the people who gave up & decided to set up in battery park were the real winners. The @DinerEnBlancNYC management clearly did not care about the experience of their attendees. What a tragedy to see this event come to this. #dinerenblanc2018 #dinerenblancnyc #debnyc2018 pic.twitter.com/ZDeFxkUDn1
— Alana Whitman (@alanawhitman) September 18, 2018
“We would have joined, had our overpriced food not been on an other island,” she says. All told, she estimates that she paid over $500—including $95 for tickets, $230 for food and drink, and $200-plus for chairs, table, and decor—to spend an hour at the dinner before getting back on the boat: She arrived around 8:30, in the rain, at what felt to her like “the very tail end” of the event.
“It was really disappointing in that it was really really poorly executed,” she explained. “A bunch of the people I went with, we all work in television, and as a producer, you just think things through. I just don’t know what they were thinking. …It was really ambitious to even think about going off the island [Manhattan].”
Leary wasn’t the only one to attest to discord. Gothamist photographer Sai Mokhtari, who was on assignment to shoot the event, said ferries were supposed to leave at 6:25, 6:40, 7:05, with the dinner itself beginning at 7:15.
“Long story short, everything ran late as shit,” Mokhtari reports. She didn’t board her boat until 7 p.m., 35 minutes after her scheduled departure at 6:25. When she made it to Governors Island, Mokhtari estimates that roughly one third of participants had arrived, but swarms of people were still waiting in Manhattan. All told, she suspects a gap of about two to three hours separated the first and last arrivals.
“Going around talking to people, it was clear who was having a good time and who wasn’t based on which boat their group managed to get on. The word ‘logistics’ came up quite a bit,” she said. “I’m not sure why the organizers didn’t realize what a mess it would be to transport over 6,000 people lugging chairs, tables, decorations and equipment to an island for dinner.”
Diner en Blanc spokesperson Diane Blackman said organizers used the same production team employed for the 2016 dinner in Battery Park City, reportedly a delight. Diner en Blanc operated its own ferries and enlisted charter ferries, departing from Battery Park Statue Cruises and Battery Maritime Building. (This was on top of two regular Governors Island ferries.) Blackman said organizers had planned earlier-than-usual arrival times and staggered departures to get everyone to the island by the picnic’s start time, but Hurricane Florence scuttled those plans.
“Tides and the sea state around the ferry docks were higher than usual,” Statue Cruises said in a statement Blackman provided. “The safety of our passengers is our top priority and we loaded the passengers and their items with great care as efficiently and as safely as the conditions allowed.” The Battery Maritime Building reportedly had more shelter from the harbor and launched its boats on a smoother schedule, but still, Diner en Blanc conceded that “one ferry was held back due to weather concerns, creating a delay of nearly 800 out of 6,500 guests.”
It appears that Diner en Blanc currently has no plans to refund frustrated participants. “The end time of the event was extended due to the ferry delays and to accommodate the latecomers,” Diner en Blanc said in a statement. “We appreciate the patience that guests showed in this situation that was beyond our control, and appreciate their continued support.” Might they have avoided that “situation” entirely by choosing a more accessible spot? Possibly, but Governors Island checked two crucial boxes: It’a “an iconic NYC location” that can also accommodate enormous crowds.
Once everyone did manage to get a boat and settle in at the event, however, Mokhtari noted that “people generally did seem to be having a FANTASTIC time.” Diner en Blanc 2018 truly had everything: Opera, dancing, a public marriage proposal, hangry hordes. Those who weathered the tremendous delays and snagged ferries across a reportedly choppy channel eventually enjoyed what was, according to Mokhtari, “a hell of a party”—if also a “glaring logistical disaster.”
— Alana Whitman (@alanawhitman) September 17, 2018