Dîner en Blanc Vancouver: It's not as bad as the haters say it is

Last night I did something I never thought I would do... I went to Dîner en Blanc

“I feel so ridiculous wearing this.”

That’s the first thing my date said stepping out of the taxi to attend Dîner en Blanc on Thursday night.  

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I laughed and replied: “Don’t worry — soon you’ll blend right in.”

As we walked to the entrance of VanDusen Botanical Garden, we were joined by a sea of people dressed in white, flowing in from all directions. It was almost like a cult following their leader into a church.

I turned to my date, James, and said: “See, it’s not so bad. Now everyone’s dressed the same.”

He looked around briefly, his face blank, and then said, “This is so weird.”

And it was … at first.

We were both new to the Dîner en Blanc experience.  It was as if we’d fallen down the rabbit hole.

I had never attended the event back home in Perth, Western Australia, and I hadn’t intended on going to Vancouver’s either. I always thought it was too expensive and too much effort.

However, I was roped into it by work colleagues who suggested it would be a great experience.

So, I went. Firstly, for work purposes, secondly, out of pure curiosity and thirdly for the free champagne media guests were promised.

I, like many others, had questioned the reasoning behind the soirée.

It was hard to go in with a positive attitude knowing how much my feet were going to hurt from the new shoes I had to rush out and buy for the event. I remember thinking, while frantically searching for white heels, "Who are these people who own white shoes that aren’t sneakers?'

Well, now I knew; I was amongst thousands of them. About 4,500 people dressed in white.

James Kuamr and Elisia Seeber at Diner en Blanc.
James Kumar and Elisia Seeber at Diner en Blanc. - James Kumar

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the event, but for those who haven’t, it is basically a huge posh picnic. Guests buy tickets ($51) to the “exclusive” event to sit down to a meal with friends in a surprise location.

There's a catch: guests also must pack and bring the meal, along with everything else… tables, chairs, tablecloths, decorations, you name it. And everything must be white.

It’s always baffled me why people pay for an event they must bring everything to. Last night I tried to figure out why.

Watching thousands of people lug their chairs and tables into the gardens wasn’t really clearing anything up.

Once we found our way through the crowd and to the media lounge, we continued to watch people setting up their tables.

It’s not my usual setting at all — I’m generally a jeans and T-shirt, beer drinking, sort of girl — but there I was dressed in white holding a glass of J.P Chenet champagne with a smile on my face looking at people struggling to unpack their decadent meals.

The now somewhat controversial concept was sparked by a gentleman named François Pasquierin in France in 1988.  He hosted an elegant outdoor dinner at Bois de Boulogne, a park in Paris, and asked his guests to dress in white so they could find each other.

And from that simple gathering an ongoing and ever-growing event was born.

From what I’ve gathered people either love it or hate it.

But it’s now in its 30th year and celebrated world-wide. Thousands of people gather for a night of high French society, champagne, elegance and etiquette. 

Last night Vancouver celebrated its seventh Dîner en Blanc.

Diner en Blanc
Diner en Blanc at VanDusen Botanical Garden. - Elisia Seeber

One thing I can’t deny is it is a truly beautiful event. Once the crowd settles it’s simply picturesque.

Long rows of white tables contrasted against lush grass and gardens.

As we wandered through we saw silver-painted dancers, women dressed as fairies frolicking around the grounds and a glowing Eiffel tower that became the main photo attraction.

It’s easy to see why it is one of the most Instagram-worthy events of the year.

Around 6.45 p.m. James asked, “What’s happening?”

I turned around and everyone was waving their napkins in the air. I had been previously told this signalled the beginning of dinner festivities – seemed like a fun thing to do, I guess.

The night went on and friends sat around their tables and ate and drank and ate and drank some more.

People wandered around taking photos… and then they sat down again and ate and drank… and ate and drank some more.

The light slowly faded, and the trees lit up and tables began to glow with fairy lights.

The moment that quite possible won me over was when everyone lit up sparklers at 9 pm.

It looked so pretty. I might even dare say, lame as it is, that the moment was at least a little magical.

But that could have been the champagne talking.

As I looked at the sparklers lighting up I pondered: what are people paying for? It’s the biggest question that gets thrown around on social media.

Diner En Blanc
Diner en Blanc... is actually pretty magical. - James Kumar

I think it’s the atmosphere. The opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary. The chance to catch up with friends in a beautiful setting and enjoy your favourite food.

To be honest, it was fun to do something I once thought wasn’t worth my time.

While people argue that you could create the event yourself at home, and some might say it’s pointless, I think simply it has become a fun tradition.

And people love traditions. They look forward to them.

You can recreate the dinner setting, but I would argue it would be difficult to recreate the atmosphere of 4,500 people enjoying themselves at long white tables – like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

When the sparklers died down, etiquette went out the window and the elegant dinner event turned into a dance party.

Some stayed to dance the last hour of the event away while others took the opportunity to pack up and leave early.

As predicted, my feet were too sore to dance. So around 9.30 I opted to leave my first Dîner en Blanc. 

After all the free champagne, James — having first thought the event was weird — was now convinced it was a great.

While we probably won’t go again, I can understand why people enjoy it. It’s just one big fancy shindig.

It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But the question, I wonder now is, why do people go out of their way to bag an event they’ve never been to?

You don’t know until you go…

Each to their own, I say.

Plus… any excuse is a good excuse to drink champagne with friends.

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