Calgary seniors enjoy Diner en Blanc

Calgary seniors experience the magic of the famous all-white dinner party at Amica Aspen Woods

Residents enjoy a beautiful Dinner en Blanc at Amica Aspen Woods

For three years, Anthony Cherniawsky has taken part in Calgary’s popular Dîner en Blanc, the annual dinner under the stars that gathers hundreds of people for a collective dinner in a public location kept secret until the last minute. Le Dîner en Blanc began in 1988 as a gathering among friends in Paris and quickly spread to stylish pop-up dinners around the world. While Cherniawsky loves the dramatic communal tables and crisp white dress code at the city’s biggest dinner party, he wanted to share that sense of beauty and excitement with a different audience — residents living at Amica Aspen Woods where he’s a Community Relations Director. “Calgary’s Dîner en Blanc sells out months in advance,” he says. “If you get a ticket, you have to set up your own white table, chairs and tablecloth. It’s just not accessible for seniors.” Until now.

The night after Dîner en Blanc took place in Heritage Park, Calgary’s premium senior lifestyles residence staged their own magical Dîner en Blanc for residents and local seniors at Amica Aspen Woods. For weeks, the team had talked about the event to get everyone excited about the famous collective dining experience with an all-white-everything theme. Every day, seniors visiting the concierge were greeted with a spectacular new photo of a Diner en Blanc event from around the world. Residents started talking weeks in advance about what they might wear to the big event, while team members happily assisted seniors who requested help finding just the right apparel in their closets.

The day of the dinner party, the building was buzzing as residents watched team members work tirelessly to completely transform the dining room. When everyone arrived for their seating, they walked into a magical setting: a single long table had been laid with white linens, fresh white flowers and sparkling glasses of Prosecco. White orbs (suspended by invisible fishing line) appeared to be floating above the table. A photo booth with a balloon arch soon had a lineup down the hall. “A lot of our residents said it was the most beautiful event we’ve ever hosted in our six years,” says Cherniawsky. “It was a lot of extra work but the impact was phenomenal. It was like a dream.”

Behind the scenes, it took a massive team effort to pull together. Life enrichment team members set up the photo booth that had everyone talking and smiling, and coordinated an after-party that had residents dancing for hours beneath specially hung lights. Culinary staff created a menu to work with the white theme: for entrees, they prepared a choice of garlic and herb roasted chicken breast or citrus cod fillet, with parmesan risotto, asparagus and cauliflower; for dessert, there were slices of angel food cake and strawberries with freshly whipped cream. The marketing team helped with room set-up, decorations and a seating plan matching those with similar interests. The maintenance team removed dozens of spare tables and chairs so the main dining room would look completely different from the usual space where residents eat meals every day. Serving staff tied on white bistro aprons and ties for the occasion. “The residents were just beaming,” says Joyce Van Zeumeren, Community Relations Director at Amica Aspen Woods. “I tell our residents we try to keep them hip with these signature events, like our food truck festival.”

Throughout the evening, over 130 seniors were excited to put on a white outfit and celebrate Amica Aspen Woods’ inaugural Dîner en Blanc. “The residents watched us change the entire dining room and were so grateful for how much work goes into creating these special events,” says Cherniawsky. One man who’d recently lost his wife was seen smiling at the dinner party for the first time in weeks. The excitement drew out another resident along with his private, introverted wife. When Amica team members sent a photo to their daughter-in-law, she said it made her week to see her mom and dad participating. Residents sent gracious thank-you notes to the staff and were still raving about the special evening a week later.

“Being able to bring this experience right to our residents is one of the most rewarding parts of our role,” says Cherniawsky. “Every team member here works so hard at giving the residents purpose, and a big part of that is having something really wonderful to look forward to.”