3,000 guests expected at Diner en Blanc picnic

Some of the invitees having a great time at the Diner en Blanc or The White Dinner. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Some of the invitees having a great time at the Diner en Blanc or The White Dinner. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Participants of Diner en Blanc or The White Dinner, a fancy and impromptu picnic. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Participants of Diner en Blanc or The White Dinner, a fancy and impromptu picnic. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
People at the Diner en Blanc or White Dinner held at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands on 30 August 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
People at the Diner en Blanc or White Dinner held at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands on 30 August 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Hawker food allowed after controversy, but location stays secret till final hours

A picnic dinner event mired in controversy previously for turning its nose up at hawker dishes will feature its biggest crowd yet when it returns for its third edition here on Saturday.

Diner en Blanc - French for Dinner in White - is expecting 3,000 guests this year, up from 2,000 last year and more than thrice the 800 guests in 2012.

Almost 10,000 people are on the waiting list every year, Mr Aymeric Pasquier, son of event founder Francois Pasquier, told The Straits Times.

The invitation-only event began as the senior Pasquier's idea of an intimate reunion dinner party in Paris 26 years ago.

Singapore was the first Asian country to host it in 2012.

It is described as a "pop-up picnic" as diners must take their own meals, tables and chairs, and then leave no trace once the night's revelry ends at a location revealed only hours before dinner. They also have to wear white.

The dinner was held in Marina Bay in 2012 and Marina Barrage last year.

Local lead host Clemen Chiang, 40, said diners will be encouraged this year to write a romantic message in a bottle and send it out into the water - giving a hint on where the picnic will be held.

The "greatest declaration of love" will be awarded a dinner for two with a butler service.

The younger Mr Pasquier has been exporting the event to cities outside France, currently numbering nearly 40. Revellers have been known to hop around the globe to secure exclusive dining spots at these "secret" picnics.

Admission costs $40 per person, on top of a membership fee of $6.40.

Mr Aymeric Pasquier said the dinners are "non-commercial" and payments cover operational costs.

But it also sparked a controversy after organisers said no to local favourites such as chicken rice, char kway teow and soya beancurd.

Organisers here will, as they did last year, allow local dishes, in addition to giving guests the option of pre-buying a three-course meal, targeted at those who may not have the time to prepare their own picnics.

"The only rule is no durian!" said Mr Chiang.

This is because guests will be taken to the "secret location" by organisers on public transport, and must abide by public transport rules here.

"Every year, we seek to push the boundaries of the event and to turn the heads of the other 39 cities who participate in it," he said.

Holding a mass pop-up picnic in Singapore has its challenges, not least the haze, rain, and heat.

"It's quite troublesome to have to buy all the necessary equipment and lug it from the meeting points to the actual locations in the heat," said engineer Tan Yingyi, 28.

He attended the inaugural edition but has no plans to return.

"It's one of those 'been there, done that' things."

Not so for psychologist Dominique Pang, 28, who is attending her second Diner en Blanc here with her boyfriend.

"It's his first time and the surprise element as well as the concept of a mass outdoor picnic is interesting."

hpeishan@sph.com