Reasons to hate Diner en Blanc

The event is licensed in 70 cities, including one in Turin last month.
The event is licensed in 70 cities, including one in Turin last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • It is very, very easy to hate Diner en Blanc.

The annual event, which returned to Washington last Saturday night, brings thousands of people to a surprise location, where they arrive dressed in head-to-toe white, eat gourmet picnics and drink champagne in full view of the uninvited masses.

"No event has ever made me want to plan a paintball rampage like this one," said Tom Bridge, editor emeritus of the We Love DC website.

He is not alone.

People have scoffed at cronuts and rolled their eyes at the long lines at popular restaurants. But no foodie trend seems to raise hackles quite like a very public, invitation- only party with a dress code and a US$45 (S$60) admission fee.

No event has ever made me want to plan a paintball rampage like this one.

TOM BRIDGE, editor emeritus of the We Love DC website, on Diner en Blanc, an invitation-only event where guests dressed in head-to-toe white arrive at a surprise event and feast on gourmet picnics. The event is licensed in 70 cities, including one in Turin last month

"The whole process is so unbelievably pretentious, it seems to me to be a complete waste of effort," Bridge said.

"Pretentious" is a word that comes up a lot around Diner en Blanc. Is it the French name? Peut-etre! (It is pronounced dee-nay on blon). Or is it all the hoops the event makes guests jump through?

To attend, you must: 1. Receive an invitation from someone who has been to a previous dinner or sweat it out on a waiting list of thousands until a spot opens up. 2. Buy or borrow a white square folding table and white chairs, white plates and a white tablecloth. 3. Buy an all-white outfit, if you don't already own one. "No ivory, no off-white and no beige," the website instructs. And dress "elegantly". 4. Buy a "gourmet meal for two", which you can order from Diner en Blanc for US$65 to US$95 or prepare it yourself (it does not need to be white, but the bag you use to carry it does). 5. Haul all this stuff to the secret dinner location. 6. Did we mention it is rain or shine and attendance is "mandatory"? "In case of rain, guests must remember to bring a white or transparent raincoat, poncho and/or umbrella," the website says.

It did not start out like this.

As the origin story goes, Mr Francois Pasquier wanted to gather a group of friends for a party, but he did not have enough space in his Paris apartment. He asked his friends to bring a friend and a meal and meet at the Bois de Boulogne dressed in white so those who were not already acquainted could identify the group.

That was in 1988.

These days, Diner en Blanc International manages the event on a global scale, licensing it in more than 70 cities, including Singapore.

Volunteers organise the event, but it also has corporate sponsorship. Previous affiliated brands have included Moet & Chandon and Celebrity Cruises.

In Washington, where the event has been held since 2014, the organisers partner florists, wine companies, boutiques and speciality grocers.

It might have started as a simple dinner party, but Diner en Blanc has followed the trajectory of Burning Man: a see-and-be-seen prestige event with an arms race in escalating costs from participants trying to outdo one another.

A backlash has been brewing.

People in Vancouver, Canada, have started Ce Soir Noir, with all-black and all-free counterprogramming to Diner en Blanc.

And then there are Philadelphians. Witness the angsty back-and- forth that took place in the City of Brotherly Love, which had its dinner on the Rocky steps on Aug 18: One PhillyVoice column from two-time attendee Bernie Carlin scolded the event for not supporting a charity.

Another column on the same website chimed in to note the trash that participants left behind and their "usurping a public space in the name of pretentious exclusivity".

Some of the naysayers have never attended. But the fact that Diner en Blanc is so public - and is, in a sense, a performance for social media - means that those who do not attend are qualified to comment on it.

Diner en Blanc bills itself as an "inclusive" event while maintaining a waiting list that has 20,000 names on it in Washington alone.

But that is merely an issue of capacity, says Ms Sandy Safi, director of development for Diner en Blanc International. "I would love to accommodate 10,000," she said. "People interpret us not having any more availability as exclusivity, but we're bound to geographical limitations."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Reasons to hate Diner en Blanc'. Subscribe