You’ve surely heard about the all-white picnics that have now been thrown in many of the world’s major cities. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the idea is that you sign up in advance and show up dressed in all white, joining several thousand other people for an al fresco dinner in a location that’s not revealed until immediately beforehand. It’s called Dîner en Blanc, and it’s been happening for nearly 30 years. It began in Paris in 1988 as a word-of-mouth event, and has since branched out to more than 70 cities around the world, on every continent but Antarctica.
This year’s NYC event will be held on August 22, and information about the event is being sent out to attendees. Not everyone is thrilled.
Various NYC-based publications have run “behind the secret dinner” stories and similar pieces, with fawning coverage written by people who seem not to have actually attended any of the dinners, or at least haven’t gone through the process of trucking their own table to the site and certainly didn’t pay for the privilege. (Related: This writer has not attended a Dîner en Blanc event either, nor does she desire to.) This, dear reader, is the secret to how the media sausage is made: Publicists who want positive coverage of their events take care of all the nasty inconvenient details and waive all fees for willing writers. This may be why I haven’t managed to find a single story that details the ridiculous demands and expenses that Dîner en Blanc attendees encounter—and of which they’re notified only after paying $51 per person to register for the event.
So let’s take a look at an information letter a friend recently received. The wording below is copied-and-pasted directly from the source.
– White! White! White! Everything EN BLANC!
– Originality and creativity are encouraged, as long as it’s stylish and tasteful.
– All-white means no ivory, no cream, and no eggshell.
– The only accepted splash of color: Silver or gold for accessories.
– Ladies: Elegant white ensemble
– Gentlemen: White dress shirt and pants
– White Hats – Highly Recommended!
– White Jackets
– White Shoes
– White Masks & Gloves
– White trolleys, picnic baskets (may be covered in white fabric)
– Casual T-shirts and tank-tops: Prohibited!
– Shorts and Bermuda shorts: Prohibited!
– Sport shoes and flip-flops: Prohibited!
– Baseball caps: Prohibited!
Guests must Bring
– 1 full fare metro card per person
– Bring your square folding table (between 24”x 24” and 30”x 30”) and 2 white chairs. If they are not white, they MUST be covered in white.
– 1 white bag to carry your belongings
– 1 white tablecloth and 2 white cloth napkins
– 2 white plates and 2 dessert plates (non-disposable; no plastic!)
– 2 sets of cutlery (no plastic)
– 2 glasses (no plastic)
– 1 gourmet meal for two
– 1 wine bottle opener
– water, non-alcoholic drinks
– 1 garbage bag
Does this sound like a lot to you? It does to us, and it sure as hell did to our friends who will be attending the dinner for the first—and, they assure us, certainly the last—time. Let’s break this down into dollar amounts. We’ll look at it per couple, since the event doesn’t allow people to attend solo.
– $42 “registration fee” plus $9 “membership fee” per person = $102 just to sign up for the dinner
– Two round-trip subway rides = $11
– Table and two chairs, tablecloth, two napkins (rented) = $50 for the cheapest option from a rental company recommended on the Diner en Blanc website.
– Two white dinner plates and two white dessert plates. Don’t have plain-white plates? Guess you’re buying some! We’d suggest heading to Fishs Eddy, the classic NYC institution, and picking up their inexpensive diner whites. $28 for two dinner plates and two side/dessert plates.
– Two sets of cutlery: Again, Fishs Eddy is possibly the most economical option. Go for their cheapest stuff; you can pick up two complete sets for around $12.
– Two glasses: Plastic’s out, so let’s go for Fishs Eddy’s cheapest option at $3 a pop / $6 for two.
– Wine key: We’ll assume you can simply borrow one from a neighboring table.
– Food – You can either bring your own “gourmet dinner” or pre-purchase a catered meal. The cheapest catered option is a vegetarian dinner at $115 per couple, or you could splurge for the barbecue or lobster options at $150 per couple. Let me be frank: Neither sounds special, nor especially appealing.
– Wine: You absolutely cannot BYOB. If you want to drink alcohol, you must purchase wine at the event. Options are limited. Your cheapest choice is sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, at $38 per bottle—for wines that usually retail for around $11.
In summary: After the event fees, renting a table and chairs, buying inexpensive table settings, eating the cheapest catered meal, and sharing a bottle of the cheapest wine, you’re looking at an outlay of $362, at the absolute minimum, for the dinner.
This doesn’t even include the cost of the white (not ivory or cream or eggshell!) clothes and shoes—and, hell, maybe a hat and/or mask, since you don’t want to be upstaged—you’ll likely need to buy… nor the dry-cleaning fees you’ll likely incur, because surely some food will find its way onto your all-white ensemble, or you’ll sit in something gross on the subway on the way there. Nor does it include extras or accessories for your table, which are encouraged (think candles in candlesticks, floral arrangements, and the like).
Do you know where else you could eat for that sum? You could dine at Le Bernardin, one of NYC’s very best restaurants. You could check out The Grill or The Pool, this summer’s two hottest restaurant openings. You could visit Le Coucou, last year’s critical fave. Really, you’d have your pick of very nearly any good restaurant in all of New York. And at each of those, you’d be eating better food and drinking better wine and likely having a much better and more comfortable time than at a semi-mysterious picnic with strangers—which feels, as a friend describes it, like “going to a wedding where you don’t know anybody.” The photos might not be as good, though.
Our suggestion: Save your bucks and organize a more casual picnic in the park with your friends instead, where you can wear what you want (hell, all white, if you choose) and eat what you like and drink much, much, much better wine.