Over the weekend I attended Dîner En Blanc Memphis, the inaugural adaptation of the Dîner En Blanc event that first started as an outdoor dinner party between friends in Paris back in 1988 by Froncois Pasquier. You can learn more about the origins here, but essentially, you bring your own food, wine, and table settings to a secret location that isn’t revealed until right before the event. There are a few non-negotiable rules to follow (the main one being wear all white), but overall, it’s a fun event that has grown into a huge worldwide phenomenon that, when done right, can bring a cool, diverse group of people together.
Some people (usually those that have never attended or don’t quite get the concept-“why would I pay to bring my own stuff to an event??”) assume that it’s pretentious or elitist, but it’s not that at all. You have “phases” that you go through to get tickets (which go fast), and because you are dealing with capacity being an issue, space is limited depending on the location. Having restrictions on what you wear and what you bring is a formality; the initial premise of the event was focused on elegance and etiquette, and it’s part of what makes it all so fun (if you’re into that sort of thing). While everyone wears white, it’s NOT an all-white affair. It’s a picnic/outdoor dinner and the dress code just so happens to be white. While some may think that’s just semantics, it really does make a difference in how things are interpreted.
Anyhoo, should your city host a Dîner En Blanc event (or you want to travel to one to attend-Paris is the goal for most and I’ve heard the one held in NOLA is amazing), here are a few things that will make your experience so much easier (and fun!):
If there is an option to rent a table and chairs, DO IT.
While it may seem more cost effective to purchase your own, renting the table and chairs cuts down on what you have to haul around with you BIG TIME. While I was lucky that our bus dropped us off directly in front of the park where it was held, some cities won’t be so lucky. If you look at any of the videos on YouTube, you will see people crossing bridges and more in some cities-who wants to do that when it’s hot as hell? Seriously, skip trying to buy the right stuff for it and just pay the rental fee. Your arms and back will thank you.
Don’t pack too much food.
Once you arrive at the site and are lead to your area to set up your tables, it takes about 20-30 minutes for everyone to get unpacked, and more than likely, you’re going to see a ton of people that you know and get distracted. You will spend a lot of time being a social butterfly (which is really the point) and you don’t want to be bogged down with food. I made my own charcuterie board for me and my sister in law (I was quite impressed with myself because it was my first time attempting it and it turned out fab, lol), and also picked up dessert, small salads and pasta from a restaurant. It was MORE than enough food (seriously; I had leftovers the next day), and it allowed us to to move around without being worried about bugs or anything messing with it. The organizers do partner with vendors that you can pre-order food from, but I’d heard about long lines and also people not liking their food once they got it, so I didn’t want to chance it. Best idea of the night.
Put some thought into your centerpiece and setup.
Although the table you have is small (about the size of a standard card table), there were some BEEEEEAAAAUTIFUL tablescapes created for the event. While you have to wear all white and your tableware should be white or crystal, you can experiment with your centerpiece. My table leader created some fun chargers with Memphis emblazoned on them and each table had them paired with either white lamps or hydrangea arrangements, but I saw so many beautiful flower arrangements and ornate centerpieces. This is where your creativity can really come out so have fun with it. If you’re not that creative do NOT stress yourself out about it, though. A vase with pretty white flowers (hydrangeas were a popular choice across the board) with a few tea lights or portable Christmas lights is more than enough.
Wear heels if you must, but also pack flats.
I wore simple woven metallic flats with my dress instead of heels or mules and I’m so glad I did. I was able to walk around and dance without any issue. Some people wore heels, but by the time the buses rolled back around to pick us up, they were all a couple of inches shorter in flats and sandals, lol. You don’t want to compromise your style for comfort, but you also don’t want to scream “my feet hurt” every 20 minutes because you’re standing on concrete, so pack a pair of shoes to be safe.
Pack an umbrella and a small handheld/portable fan.
All day long the forecast was clear but about 45 minutes into us arriving, we were hit with a little rain storm for about 5-7 minutes. Then again about an hour later. Thankfully our table was under a tree with thick branches and leaves so we only got a dusting each time it rained but everyone wasn’t so lucky. Also, it was HOT. I spent a good hour randomly saying that I was hot (hopefully I didn’t annoy anybody, lol), but thankfully the mini storms we had brought along a breeze and that, coupled with us being so close to the river, allowed it to eventually cool down. My hair is an entirely different conversation, though. When my niece saw me once we arrived back to their house so that I could get my car, she was like “OMG what happened to you??” so… yea, lol.
Don’t be afraid to socialize.
When you first sign up for tickets, you have the option to select your departure point, so you and your friends can coordinate to select the same spot, but don’t just talk to your friends once the event arrives. Yes it’s easy, but the thing that makes Dîner En Blanc so cool is that the people that attend come from so many different backgrounds, so don’t be afraid to make new friends (even if it’s just for one night, lol). We talked and laughed with our tablemates for a bit, but we also walked around to mingle with other people. The energy during Dîner En Blanc is so open and inviting that you won’t want to limit yourself to only your circle.
Don’t take everything so seriously.
The hardest part of this whole process is securing tickets, and that’s because it’s such a hot ticketed event. It’s truly first come first serve, so you have to be on top of your sh*t to get tickets if you really want to go. You can’t hem and haw about it, and I think that’s the issue that a lot of people run into (and don’t want to admit). Also, food, decor and your outfit CAN add up if you let it, so be realistic about your budget and what you actually need. If you wait til the last minute to do everything then yes, you will be annoyed and out of a lot more money, but if you actually plan everything out, at minimum you’ll be out of $200, and this is for everything for TWO people. If you can afford the finest China, then get it, but if not, Target, The Dollar Store and Amazon will be your go-tos for everything you need without breaking the bank. Don’t let people’s perception of the event overwhelm or stress you out. At the end of the day, it’s about the experience, and it takes just one look through the Dîner En Blanc hashtag on Instagram to know that it’s one that you don’t want to miss.