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Where's the Party? SEPTA Gets Diner En Blanc Guests to Secret 'Pop-Up Picnic'

Heather Redfern
SEPTA Public Information Manager

How do you make travel arrangements to a dinner party when you don't know the location? If you were headed to the second annual Diner en Blanc ("White Dinner") in Philadelphia on August 22, you let SEPTA help with planning and hopped on board the Authority's trains with thousands of other attendees.

Diner en Blanc, a "pop-up picnic", is an international phenomenon that takes place in 40 cities on five continents, including Paris, Singapore, New York and Mexico City. Participation is limited and guests must pre-register. Attendees dress entirely in white and bring their own picnic baskets, tables and chairs to dine and dance in a public space, the address of which is not revealed until participants arrive there with their table hosts. This year's Diner en Blanc Philadelphia was held on the JFK Bridge at 30th Street Station in University City and attended by 2,550 people from across the region.

"The purpose of Diner en Blanc Philadelphia is to build community and create awareness and appreciation of the city's public spaces," said event co-host Natanya DiBona. "Our vision for the event was to use an industrial setting in a creative and elegant way - showing off the heart of the city's infrastructure in the form of an artistic 'installation'."

Since secrecy and timing are key to making the event happen, mass transit plays an important role in getting participants to their final destination and group meeting spots are located near public transportation stations. DiBona and fellow co-host Kayli Moran also reached out to SEPTA for logistical help. "The Authority immediately showed an interest in assisting us with transportation for Diner en Blanc this year," said Moran. "We had a conference call with [promotions and marketing specialist] John Rush and [senior director of rail transportation] Mike Kolesnik during which we explained our plan to have over 1,000 guests utilize the Market-Frankford Line and Regional Rail for the event. We presented John and Mike with a 'wish list' and they did what they could to accommodate all our wishes."

Rush and Kolesnik worked with SEPTA sales and operations staff to ensure the dinner guests would be able to reach the party on time and without any service interruptions or delays. Like the event participants, SEPTA officials were not privy to the final destination ."We work with many organizations to coordinate travel to special events and with large groups, but never when we don't quite know where they are going," said Rush. "But the Diner en Blanc hosts gave us an approximate destination and we were able to direct their attendees to key meet-up stations - Spring Garden, 5th Street and 15th Street on the Market-Frankford Line and 30th Street Station for Regional Rail - that would help guests arrive within a short walking distance to the event."

Rush encouraged DiBona and Moran to purchase fares in advance and Kolesnik had staff on hand at the designated stations to assist with boarding and answer any questions. "I have been singing SEPTA's praises to everyone I know," said Moran. "SEPTA's accommodations increased the ease and speed with which our guests traveled to the secret location. One of our photographers told me that the employee at 5th Street was 'so wonderful and really explained to everyone how to get on the train.' Thank you John and Mike!"

A Diner en Blanc guest pays his fare at 5th Street Station, still not knowing where the dinner will take place. (Photo by HughE Dillon)

More than 1,000 Diner en Blanc guests travelled to the secret "'pop-up picnic" on SEPTA trains. (Photo by Sean Corbett Photography)

Guests leave 30th Street Station with their tables, chairs and picnic baskets. (Photo by Sean Corbett Photography)

The final destination: the JFK Bridge at 30th Street in University City! (Photo by Sean Corbett Photography)