Diner en Blanc – Part 1: Logistics, Wardrobe, Group Size

There’s something wonderful about watching several hundred people dressed in white come together for dinner, music and sparklers, and then melt back into the night. It looks like we sadly won’t have a Diner en Blanc event in Edmonton this summer, but here’s some assistance in planning for this event if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a Diner en Blanc.

There are two ways to get tickets for Diner en Blanc if you’ve never been. If you know someone who attended the event last year, they can invite you this year as their guest. If not, you’ll need to get yourself on the wait list for tickets. To do this, go to https://www.dinerenblanc.com/ and find your city. You’ll be able to sign up for the waitlist. You’ll want to do this as soon as you can, because in some cities, the available spots are claimed really quickly, so you don’t want to miss the day invitations go out.

Initially, this was going to be one post, but it turns out I have a lot to say about preparing for Diner en Blanc, so I’m splitting it into two posts. This one will cover basic logistics (tables, chairs, carrying), wardrobe (though I’m no fashion expert), and some thoughts on doing Diner en Blanc in groups larger than two. The second covers what’s on the table (food, drinks and décor), and will come later this week.

Logistics – What I wish I’d known for our first Diner en Blanc

There are some considerations for Diner en Blanc, associated with sorting out tables and chairs, how to carry things, and general kit you should have on hand. I won’t say this is especially comprehensive, but it’s things we’ve found useful, and things we’ve had other attendees comment on as being especially good ideas.

It’s possible to rent tables for DeB – and, if you can pick up and drop off tables on site, go ahead and do it. If you can’t both pick up and drop off at the event site, I would recommend not doing this. When most rental companies set up for an event, they have trucks to carry things and staff dressed in washable, comfortable clothes, so they use solid table tops. You, on the other hand, will be walking at least a little ways and wearing pure white clothes you’ll want to look good for the whole event. Carrying a solid tabletop is AWKWARD (my husband did this exactly once and then swore “never again”), especially if you’re trying to manage table legs and chairs at the same time, and most rented tables are heavy, so you’ll be less able to carry other things for the event, since one person will be pretty well occupied carrying the table itself. The alternative? A roll-top camping table. Ours is from MEC – it’s lightweight and comes with a case that can be slung over your shoulder like a yoga mat. It cost us about $70, and we use it for other events often. When I bought mine, Canadian Tire offered a similar model for less than $50. Just make sure the dimensions of the table conform to the DeB requirements.

For chairs: again, you can rent, but they can be heavy. Ikea has lightweight white folding chairs that cost less than $10. To make carrying chairs easier: Go to the fabric store and get some white webbing (the stuff they make the adjustable part of backpack straps out of) and Velcro – make a carrier (like a yoga mat carrier) to allow you to carry chairs over a shoulder as well, with an extra strap/velcro to go around the bottom to hold a pair of chairs together.

Plan for rain, so you have a good time even in the pouring rain. You’ll want white or clear umbrellas, which can be found at The Umbrella Shop online or The Bay. Since white or clear umbrellas are often part of wedding preparations, you may also be able to borrow them from newlyweds, or buy them at a bridal store. It is easier to fold us a white or clear rain poncho, but an umbrella can keep you, as well as your meal, dry.

To carry things, you’ll want a basket or box with a sturdy bottom, and a white canvas totebag or two. A white basket is ideal to carry both dishes and food items that need to be carried flat. I found a white basket at Bed Bath and Beyond our first year (Winners would also be a good bet), and it’s about 16 inches wide, 14 inches high, and 20 inches long. Most of the year it holds toilet paper in my linen closet, but it comes with us for DeB. Remember you can spray paint a basket white if you find the right basket in the wrong colour. The other helpful thing is a white canvas totebag or two to carry things like bread and salad greens. They can keep your hands free, and you may be able to fold them into the basket for the trip home. A white cart that folds flat can be helpful especially if you want to carry multiple boxes/coolers. I’ve seen them used successfully, but never used one myself.

However you carry things to the venue, you want to be able to tuck them into relatively small spaces. Depending on the venue, you might not have a lot of space around you, so your best bet is to plan for baskets/totes/carts to fit underneath or right next to your table. This is why I love the totebags – they fold into the basket when things are on the table, and if you tuck the basket under the table, no one will trip but you still have a relatively convenient way to take things home.

If I can, I prefer to rent table linens. Mostly because I don’t have to wash them and worry about getting anything (including, one year, motor oil…. ) out of them. I try for linens that mostly cover the table legs and hide the baskets I tucked under there. This does add a step to the planning if you’re not renting a table and chairs, but it’s not particularly expensive – last time it cost us about $15 for table cloths and napkins for 6.

Little things to carry in your kit: A lighter/matches (for sparklers), a small pair of scissors (we’ve used these, and lent them to other groups, every year we’ve gone), a damp white dishcloth in a sealed Ziploc bag (a trick for music festivals from my mom – genius for wiping sticky fingers, etc.), a few bandaids (for minor injuries and blisters), an extra white trash bag or two (for extra trash, or to contain something that gets wet or dirty until you can throw it in the laundry), and a couple of clean Ziploc bags (sending leftovers home, small messes, etc.).

If you can find them, extra sparklers (the long, 16-18 inch ones, not the ones for birthday cakes) are absolutely worth bringing. It’s a real treat to have extra sparklers, especially if you want to take photos by that lovely light. You can order them online if you’re organised, or sometimes find them at the retailers who sell wedding décor and supplies.

If you use your phone as a camera, make sure you charge it before heading out. Also, if you’re wearing an outfit that doesn’t have good pockets for carrying a phone, put your phone in a Ziploc bag before you tuck it into your bag. This will protect your phone from spills in transit, or someone sloshing water at the event, as well as any rain. If you’re in a group, one bag will hold more than one phone, but it’s worth having a place to keep phones dry.

Wardrobe

The first thing to know about wardrobe is that you may want to start early, especially if you have a clear vision of what you want to wear. I’ve usually found white tops easy enough to find, but white bottoms and white shoes are more challenging, especially if you want something specific. Do give yourself time so you can order things and make sure they fit properly. I’m much more of a food person than a fashion person, and I still generally sort out outfits first, because food is easier to adjust at the last minute.

Plan to have something for the cooling weather. Even if it was 27 degrees at the start of the evening, you might want an extra layer when you’re heading home. A light jacket, or a thin scarf will work, and I’ve seen people bring white fleece blankets to drape over laps. Ideally, you want something that will fold down pretty small in your bags, and/or that can be used to cushion or wrap dishes and glassware on your way to the event.

If you are a fashion person, this is an event where you can go over the top with the outfit – some cities even host “best dressed” competitions. Hats, fascinators, as long as it’s white and elegant, it’s fair game. Friend of ours attended DeB in French Renaissance dress – wigs and all – and it was wonderful. Just make sure your outfit will let you carry whatever gear you need and allow you to set up for the event.

Although I love the look of white heels, and have worn white heels with marabou trim for this event, you may want to bring flats, even if only for walking and setting up. Brand new canvas runners are an easy and accessible choice, although I have also successfully thrifted white loafers for this purpose. If the edges of the soles of your shoes are scuffed, nail polish remover will remove most scuffs. Since I’ve generally found shoes to be the most difficult part of a DeB outfit, this is often where I start.  

Some things to know about wearing white pants: most will tend to be transparent, especially if they are cotton or linen. That means you’ll need nude (generally easier for women than men to find) or white underwear, unless you’d like people to be able to easily identify the colour and style of your underthings. You should also be sure that, if you’re wearing socks, they are likewise white or nude, because they will show and some events will send you home for this.

It’s likely that some local clothing stores have put together a fashion guide for Diner en Blanc, and some online retailers do as well – this can be helpful if you’re looking for a place to start with specific pieces to choose for the event.

Larger Groups

If you’re attending the event with a group of friends and want to sit together, you can do so by all registering at the same meeting place, with the same bus/table leader. If you do this, the DeB computer system will allow you to link your tables (if you’re having trouble doing this, message your table leader and they should be able to help you out). You will only be able to ensure your tables are adjoining if your group is all meeting at the same place – it won’t work if you’re arriving from different parts of the city. Using one meeting place is also often a great excuse to start the evening early by meeting in the same place to get ready.

If you do want to sit in a group, and want to set up a single shared table instead of several smaller ones (which can be a really lovely effect), then here’s my advice. As much as possible, make sure everyone in your group is using the same table solution (from the same manufacturer). If you’re using a roll top camping table, as suggested above, zip tie them together when you’re setting up at the event. When you drape a single tablecloth over, you’ll have the impression of a single table, and be able to safely set objects down on the seams between tables.

A larger group of attendees can also simplify some logistics and make the event less work. There are a couple of ways to do this. Since I genuinely enjoy planning this kind of thing (maybe the length of this post gives that away?) and my summer work schedule tends to be more relaxed, our group of friends generally approaches this as “Anastasia plans everything, and everyone else does/supplies what she tells them to.” I’ll plan the menu, but ask the person who works next to the bakery to pick up baguette, and have everyone bring me containers and dishes to set the table the week before, so that the night of, people can grab the bags/baskets I’ve packed, and off we go.

The other option is to delegate planning, so one person is responsible for décor, one for the salad, etc. If you’re going to do this, it helps to have some method of coordination, either getting together to discuss logistics, or setting up a Google Doc, so that things are taken care of appropriately (e.g. no one’s bringing food or flowers someone else is allergic to, someone is actually responsible for ensuring there are enough plates, etc.).

If you are attending in a bigger group, it can be helpful to assign someone to be the photographer – DeB makes for some great photos, and having someone responsible for capturing those moments (e.g. beautifully set tables before the meal, portraits of your friends in the light of hundreds of sparklers, etc.) can be vert helpful. This is harder to do when there are just two of you setting up a table and meal, but in larger groups it’s very useful.

 

One Thing to Remember

Your city’s DeB has local experts – table and bus leaders. If you have a question specific to your city of location (one year we had to ask if the site, and the trip from the meeting point to the site, were wheelchair accessible), they’re the ones to ask. They won’t be able to tell you what to make for supper, or what to wear, but if it’s important, they’re your go-to. They’re great people, and don’t be afraid to ask them if there’s something you need to know.

 

I hope that helps you get ready for an amazing Diner en Blanc – there are lots of things I didn’t anticipate the first time we attended, but the event has always been a blast. Check back later in the week for another DeB post about food, drinks, and décor. I’d love to see photos of your experience in the comments!

 Decorating the table with food and flowers (without greenery - just sprigs of baby's breath tucked among tulle pompoms and vellum shades over candles. 

Decorating the table with food and flowers (without greenery - just sprigs of baby's breath tucked among tulle pompoms and vellum shades over candles. 

 You will want light in the later parts of the evening, because it does get dark (also notice, there's no water in that jar of flowers - easier to carry that way). 

You will want light in the later parts of the evening, because it does get dark (also notice, there's no water in that jar of flowers - easier to carry that way). 

 Tulle streamers and bunches of flowers for chair backs - easy to do, and saves table space for delicious food. 

Tulle streamers and bunches of flowers for chair backs - easy to do, and saves table space for delicious food.