Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Dîner en Blanc is known as the massive “chic picnic” where hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of guests dress elegantly in all white. It’s a sight to see for passersby. In 1988, Francois Pasquier got friends together and started this amusing tradition. There are a lot of rules to pulling off this unique event, now celebrated in more than 15,000 locations worldwide including Hawai‘i for the sixth year in a row.
For starters, you must receive an invitation to attend either as a Phase 1 return attendee, as a Phase 2 guest who is “sponsored” by a Phase 1 attendee or as a Phase 3 guest who is lucky enough to garner an invitation after Phase 1 and 2 guests have secured their invitations.
When I first heard about Dîner en Blanc in 2016, I waited until there was an opening in the Phase 3 round, and was put on hold for at least 30 minutes. Just when I thought my wife and I were not going to end the day with an invitation, I was about to give up and log out of the system. Suddenly, I saw that I could purchase an annual Dîner en Blanc membership for just $8, with a potential upgrade in the following year. When the 2017 event rolled around I received an email that I was granted Phase 1 access. Woo-hoo! We’re attending Dîner en Blanc!
Attendees must be dressed in white. All white. No off-white, no cream, no ivory, WHITE! Or they run the risk of being banned from future events. The elegant part is negotiable, probably because of the warm climate, organizers of the Honolulu event cut the attendees some slack. The men’s attire ranged from white Bermuda shorts and polo shirts, to white tuxedos and three-piece suits. Most of the women dressed to the nines.
We were instructed to bring our own square picnic table that’s between 28 and 32 inches, a white tablecloth, two white chairs, dishware, silverware, glassware, cloth napkins, a picnic basket or bag with a gourmet meal (there was also an option to purchase a set meal at the event). The only adult beverages allowed are wine or champagne.
As if these rules weren’t quirky enough, we had no idea where we were going. Per tradition, the venue was kept secret until the last minute. Once everyone had boarded the buses and they started rolling, the table leader asked the group if anyone could guess the destination. And they usually don’t divulge the location until you’re almost there. Their inaugural event in 2014 was held on the grounds of Iolani Palace with subsequent events held at Ko Olina, the rooftop of the Hawaii Convention Center, Kualoa Ranch and Turtle Bay. Once we exited the bus, we all lined up with our picnic gear. Then we were directed to the picnic area to set up our tables single file (it’s supposed to seat all the men on one side, women on the other but organizers are also lax about the seating arrangements). Then once everyone’s tables and chairs are set up, attendees twirl their white napkins in the air to let organizers know, “we’re ready to get this party started.”
This year, the restaurant creating picnic “baskets” for purchase and pick-up at the event was La Tour Bakehouse with a menu that looked like this (I opted to purchase their faire):
The La Tour Bakehouse Picnic
Organic French Baguette with Lavosh
Butter and Sea Salt
Chicken Pesto Dip
Whipped Ricotta & Concord Grape Jam
Ahi Conserva with Arcadian Mixed Greens
Local Tomato, and Shaved Cucumbers
Kalua Pig Banh Mi sandwich with Pickled Carrots and Daikon,
Shaved Jalapeno, Cilantro, and Cucumber
Blanc Cheesecake with Sweet Potato and a Mac Nut Crust
This year, I tried guessing the location of the venue. I knew that it would need to be a space that could seat 1,500 people (Dîner en Blanc Honolulu is capped at 1,500), allows alcohol consumption and also be where amplified music wouldn’t be an issue. So while Ala Moana Beach Park and Kapi‘olani Park easily could fit 1,500 diners, alcohol isn’t allowed in those locations so the only locations I could imagine would be Moanalua Gardens, the Dillingham and Waimänalo Polo Fields and the Bishop Museum. As our bus cruised down Likelike Highway, it moved to the left lane so I knew it had to be the Bishop Museum (a trip to Moanalua Gardens would have required the right lane). Since I decided to rent my chairs and purchased my Taittinger Champagne for pick-up at the venue, we easily walked to the picnic location. And as we started decorating our table, I felt the first raindrops. Which increased to larger, frequent raindrops. Which escalated into a full-blown rainstorm. But we were there with friends both new and old enjoying champagne and Chablis and our only concern was that the rain was diluting our beverages! The rain did finally abate so we continued our merriment, albeit in rain-soaked garments but our friends and the Mrs. enjoyed the evening and are already looking forward to next year’s event!
Why Pay for an Event Just to Bring Everything?
That’s a question that many of my friends and coworkers ask. For starters, it’s not easy to secure an invitation, and if you do, it costs close to $200 per couple (two people have to attend, you can’t attend by yourself) and then, you have to lug your own table, chairs, linen and food and beverages. Plus, shouldn’t we be spending an evening with people our own age?
Personally, it’s our attempt to delay the onset of aging… namely to delay that point when we turn into our parents. You know, following the same routine day in and day out. Eating the same meals at exactly the same time. Remaining cloistered within the comfortable confines of our own homes. I already mutter things like, “these kids nowadays” or “when I was your age…”
These kinds of events take us out of our comfort zones, and mingling with couples that could be our children helps us maintain a youthful sense of adventure. And for the record, at least 25 percent of attendees look like they’re AARP eligible and probably attend for the same reason as we do. In fact we met a couple around our age two years ago, at Dîner en Blanc, who were seated next to us. It was nice to see familiar faces when we saw them again in 2017.
We enjoyed attending Dîner en Blanc, even with the rainstorm this year. Even though we have to carry everything to the site. Even with jumping through multiple hoops to secure the invitation. And as long as I keep getting my e-mail as a Phase 1 return attendee, I’ll keep securing our table at Dîner en Blanc.