Photo courtesy of Dîner en Blanc
Bear with me as I navigate my way through a conundrum. Dîner en Blanc, a pop-up picnic dinner at which participants must wear head-to-toe white, eat from white dinnerware and deck out their own tables with all-white décor, is slated to hit the Commonwealth on Aug. 8 at a yet-undisclosed location in Hampton Roads. Virginia has never hosted the Dîner before, so Hampton Roads organizers R. Kristi Modern Hospitality are expecting a huge crowd — huge, as in 1,000-plus guests — and tickets are notoriously difficult to nab through the registration process and a very lengthy waitlist. For those who do secure a ticket or two, a so-coordinated, all-white pop-up picnic awaits.
On the one hand, the idea of a massive picnic where strangers become friends over succulent bites of dinner and sips of wine is clearly a good one. That concept is at the heart of Dîner; it began 25 years ago in Paris, when original organizer Francois Pasquier invited friends to eat together at the Bois de Boulogne. As the Parisian park is two-and-a-half times as large as New York City's Central Park, and his guests weren’t all acquainted, he suggested that everyone wear white in order to recognize each other. Simple, beautiful and très French.
The event became a series of events, now run by Pasquier, his son Aymeric, Director of Development Sandy Safi, and a team comprised of some of the original picnic-goers. Amazingly, the bloat of growing to massive international proportions hasn’t seemed to affect the quality of the event itself; it’s still a giant, aesthetically pleasing picnic in white, punctuated occasionally with marriage proposals and other magical bits.
On the other hand, even if you're thrilled by the event concept, the website gives one pause. The word “chic” is thrown around like it’s 1992, there are offensively cautionary explanations of guests “conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette,” and “the elegance and glamour of court society” is touted. It’s suggested that you bring polished silverware. If I’m already the picture of elegance and etiquette, do I really need to be told to polish my silverware? D.e.B., there are many, many ways to convey that guests should step it up without smacking them in the face with a virtual white glove.
The other issue that doesn’t entirely add up is the cost. Yes, there is one. It’s $37 per person, plus an $8 membership fee, and tickets are only sold in pairs. Keep in mind that you’re bringing your own (imperatively "elegant" and "chic") food, drink, table, chairs, tables, plates, forks, and witty conversation. So… what else is there? The ticket pays for “training, support and technological services to all the organizers from around the world, to enable them to organize their own event, graciously offered by Dîner en Blanc International.” That is some high-dollar tech support for explaining how to have a picnic. Purchasing a ticket also enables you to sponsor a friend who’s not already registered as a member; to upload a photo to the D.e.B. site; to modify your guest contact info (what?), and to “eventually” communicate with event leaders and register for D.e.B. events in other cities. Oh, and it gets you the privilege of purchasing additional D.e.B. goods. It’s a bit flummoxing, because none of that seems integral to the enjoyment of a great picnic.
Again, though, it’s a pretty amazing cultural phenomenon about which attendees rave. I firmly believe that money should be spent primarily on experiences, so if you can hang with the exorbitant BYO picnic price tag, it’s probably well worth it. Just don’t forget to polish your silverware.