Last night my husband and I attended our very first Diner en Blanc event in San Diego and it was incredible - exclusive guest list, secret location, gorgeous decor, delicious food, a breathtaking view, new friends and live music, what more could you want out of a Thursday night? Definitely one of the most memorable nights I've had in a long time; however, the preparation leading up to the event was confusing and at times overwhelming as a newbie. In order to ensure that you don't make the same mistakes that we did, I'm here to give you all of the inside tips into planning and preparing for your next Diner en Blanc event in your city, including a Packing Checklist PDF for your convenience.
what is diner en blanc?
Diner en Blanc a dinner club event that started in Paris nearly 30 years ago, bringing friends together to share a meal. Trending in popularity, it has grown tremendously and is now held all over the world for thousands of participants. The event is held only once a year in various cities (not all cities on the same date) to an exclusive invite only list of members - for the most part consisting of millennial foodies (yes, I realize that's a major generalization but is there really a more self indulgent age group that would want to attend this type of ridiculous night? I didn't think so.). All participants are strictly informed on what to bring and are instructed to wear ALL WHITE (not off white or ivory). There are even threats that if you do not adhere to the dress code, you will not be allowed on the bus and will be turned away - yikes! This is a 100% Bring Your Own Everything event (tables, chairs, food, wine, etc.), the only thing that you get for the cost of the night is transfer to the location and the general lighting and music for the evening - everything else you provide yourself.
In summary - it's an evening dinner party where guests wear all white, show up at a secret location with all of their own food and supplies, break bread with strangers and drink and dance the night away.
How to Score an Invite
The only way to get an invite is either to be invited by a current member or sign up on the waiting list for your city. You can find your city on the International Diner en Blanc website and request to be on the waiting list for the following year's event. There's no guarantee you will actually get a chance to buy tickets, but that's the only option you've got unless a current member sponsors you (so you may want to suck up to some friends who went last year). Once you do buy a ticket, you automatically become an official member and will be invited back the following year.
Pre Planning - What to bring and where to get it
Planning is where all the stress comes from. As first timers, we were more prepared than some and made a few rookie mistakes along the way. This is also where you can end up spending a decent amount of money; surprisingly going to a public dinner party can be super expensive! Please keep in mind that these are my own suggestions for what to bring based on my own experience and is exactly how I will be doing it next year knowing what I know now, but be sure to follow the specific instructions you receive from your table host and make your own judgements. Here's a list of items that you should expect to bring and my recommendations on each one:
- 1 Folding Square Table Between 24 & 36 inches
- Even if you are dining with other guests, they require that a square table is brought for every 2 people. This is one of your heaviest and bulkiest items and was one of the hardest items for us to find so don't wait until the last minute as we heard from many people who couldn't find one anywhere. You can also rent a table, but that's not cheap either and a pain to have to pick up and return - you're better of spending the extra money and buying one. You're looking for a card table, but the best ones I saw were ones that either folded in half or were camping tables in a bag because they were light and easy to carry. The table does not have to be white as it will be covered with a table cloth. Here are options of the best ones I saw:
- 2 White Folding Chairs
- The two chairs are also bulky items, so be sure to find light folding chairs. The chairs need to be as white as possible, but if there is a metal framing it wasn't a problem as long as the backing and seat were white. You are allowed to cover them with white chair covers, but I would not suggest going this direction as it adds just another item to the list. We bought our chairs from Ikea, but I've also provided a link to another acceptable option that you can have delivered from Amazon.
- 1 White Table Cloth & 2 White Napkins
- These are self explanatory. My suggestion is to bring a cotton square table cloth and disposable napkins. The less you have to bring home and wash the better - you'd be surprised how quickly the little things get annoying after a 2-5 glasses of wine. However, if you are extremely concerned about a perfect table presentation, you'll want to do cloth napkins as they do present a more elegant tablescape - otherwise no one will notice or care.
- 1 Rolling Cooler or Foldable Dollie and Bungee Cords
- This helps you to carry everything around easily. I can't tell you how many people we saw literally carrying chairs and tables and bottles of wine in their hands in heels! It looked miserable. We brought a medium sized folding dollie to stack everything on and secured it all with bungee cords and it worked like a charm. The only thing I carried was a vase of flowers and everything else was easily rolled by Colin. Many people also had rolling coolers or EasyGo Utility Wagons - all of which worked well. Whatever you decide to do, it has to fit underneath your table, so it needs to be compact - this isn't a tailgate party!
- 1 Picnic Basket or Container or Cooler to Carry Food & Extras
- You'll need to put all of your items somewhere easy to carry around and DIB highly recommends a picnic basket. In my personal opinion, that's a terrible idea and super impractical other than the fact that it looks nice for the few moments you have it out. If you don't bring a rolling cooler, I'd highly suggest a backpack/bag cooler AND a medium sized plastic bin. We were able to put all of our cold food items in the small cooler and everything else, including extra shoes, camera, etc. in the bin.
- Dinnerware: 2 Plates, 2 Wine Glasses, 2 Water Glasses, 2 Forks, 2 Knives & 2 Spoons (All in White, Glass or Silver)
- The plates and wine glasses were all breakable and the silverware was all stainless from our kitchen. While it was very pretty, I absolutely wish we had brought disposable dishes so that we didn't have to lug it all home dirty and sticky or be concerned with things breaking. Honestly, no one will notice if you don't have beautiful China out, there's way too much going on to care and it won't take away from the experience. If you are opposed to disposable dinnerware, be sure to bring extra paper towels and an additional bag to put all of the dirty dishes in as it gets a bit messy. I wrapped all of my glassware in the tablecloth and extra cotton napkins so that they were safe, but I watched at least 3 people drop their stuff in front of me and break numerous glasses.
- Necessary Extras
- Candles for the table & a lighter or matches - battery operated or candles with large glass coverings to protect the flame are best. We brought long tapered candles and candlesticks and the wind blew them out the second we tried to light them and it was a calm night.
- A Bottle Opener (we just brought a twist top wine bottle to make it even easier)
- 2 Trash Bags - 1 for all of the trash to go in and 1 to put all of your dirty dishes in.
- 1 Sharp Knife (if needed for your food)
- Paper Towels for clean up
- Wet Wipes to clean your hands following dinner
- Print Out of Your Confirmation Letter
- Photo ID (yes, they check to ensure you are who you say you are)
- There were plenty of people who went all out on their table decorations. I brought what I could to make it nice, but it was nowhere close to some of the elaborate designs of others. It's really up to you how far you go with this, but honestly I feel like if you aren't going to go all out crazy, save yourself the stress, cost and energy and keep it simple.
- Since the dinner is in the late afternoon into the evening, there were a lot of tables with lighting decorations like strings of battery powered white lights, glow sticks and table lanterns. That's where I'm putting my energy next year as it was fun and functional.
The food you bring is another vital piece in this big white puzzle, but with proper planning can be much less stressful. My husband and I decided to stick to our normal Paleo diet so made everything ourselves, but I think I'll probably order take-out next year. The food is all going to end up cold no matter what you do, so you'll need to plan for that - which also means you don't want to go all out on a steak dinner when it's going to be cold once you finally eat it. Whatever you bring, be sure it's prepped and ready for plating. We packed each course in a separate tupperware dish and that worked out nicely; however, we brought a few cheeses wedges and we should have pre cut that as well so that they were ready to go. In the end, try not to have to do too much other than put the food on the plate and eat it especially since there's not much room on your table for prepping. This cuts down on the amount of dishes you have to bring, time and cleanup.
List of What You Can Expect to Bring
- Wine (most people brought at least 1 bottle per person)
- First Course (soup, salad, small appetizers, sushi rolls)
- Main Course
- Dessert or Cheese Platter
- Bread (optional)
What to wear for men and women
This is not an extensive list, just a few tips to relieve confusion and anxiety. In general, everything should be in white, but I wouldn't stress about the shade of white. While instructions explicitly say that it needs to be white-white, I saw plenty of people in off whites and no one was sent away or publically shamed for it; however, I wouldn't push your luck with creams or nudes - that will definitely stand out. Shoes with light cork souls or colored trim also didn't seem to create alarm; just do your best to reduce any color as it adds to the elegance of the party. This is definitely a semi formal/formal event (I even saw women in wedding dresses and men in 3 piece suits/tuxedos), so don't be worried about being overdressed.
- White Shirt (collared/button up recommended)
- White Pants/Slacks (absolutely NO shorts!)
- White Tie or Bowtie
- White Dress Shoes (no sport or running shoes)
- White Belt or Suspenders (if necessary)
- White Jacket (optional)
- White Hat (optional)
- White Costume Mask (optional)
- White Semi Formal/Formal Outfit of any kind
- White Dress Shoes
- White Sandals or Flats (you'll want these to walk to the location as well as for dancing. Do not expect to go barefoot as I saw plenty of broken glass all around us from drunken people dropping their wine glasses. You can easily pack extra shoes in your container).
- White Headpiece (optional)
- White Jewelry (optional)
- White Sweater or Jacket
- White Costume Mask (optional)
The Day of and what to expect
There is a very specific process for the evening which you can read more about here, but let me give you the short version...
- Guests are assigned to specific locations around the city. Arrive early and be sure to find your designated table host to check in and get your table number.
- Everyone will board a bus that will take you to the secret location, loading all of your items for transportation. Don't be late as the bus will leave without you and you will not be provided with directions to the secret location.
- All buses with guests converge at one designated location.
- Guests are led to the spot you will set up your table.
- There is an official waving of napkins at the time that everyone is invited to sit down and begin eating.
- At the end of dinner, the dance floor opens. I suggest doing an initial clean up at this point to reduce the amount of work at the end of the night when you are tired and intoxicated.
- There is a signal to clean up your area and pack up. Times to get on the buses are strict, so don't be long. You are expected to leave the space cleaner than when you arrived so please pick up around you.
- The night ends and you are left counting down the days until next year!