I feel like my weekends are becoming quite same-same: run, brunch, shop, eat, cocktails. Repeat. So when I was asked if I wanted to dress in head-to-toe white, pack a picnic and be bussed to a secret iconic Melbourne location for Diner en Blanc last weekend, I thought, why not? Let’s shake some cayenne pepper on this weekend.
Originating 28 years ago as an impromptu picnic held on the streets of Paris, with Frenchman François Pasquier instructing his large group of friends to wear white so that they could locate one another, the Diner en Blanc concept has since spread throughout the world. Now over 60 different cities are annually inundated with an all-in-white, picnic basket-hauling flash mob. This was the second year it’s been held in Melbourne.
Part of Diner en Blanc’s charm is that it’s more exclusive than a party at Leonardo Dicaprio’s house, with tickets selling out within the hour. There are only a certain number of tickets and you have to be invited, or alternatively join a 11,000-deep wait list, to be able to have the privilege of wearing white. Lucky for me, my colleague was moonlighting last Saturday as a Diner en Blanc table and bus leader, and so kindly brought me into the fold.
It was only after registering that I realised Diner en Blanc has more rules than a paleo diet. One must wear all white, one must come with a partner, and one must bring their own table and chairs. The chairs must be white, the table no bigger than 76cm-squared, and must be square, which means my hexagon picnic table was left in the shed. No doubt, IKEA Richmond made a killing last week with the HÄRÖ fold-up white table selling out by week’s end.
You also needed to pack your own crockery, cutlery and glassware, no plastic. Drinks had to be pre-purchased through Diner en Blanc and you had a deadline of the week prior to anticipate how much Pommery champagne you’d feel like eight days later. At 7pm, there would be a napkin wave, for which you must supply the napkins, and at 9pm, there would be a sparkler wave, for which you must supply the matches.
Once you’d bought your tickets, attendance was mandatory and in the totally God-awful event of rain you had to organise yourself a WHITE umbrella and raincoat. Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain, so Melbourne spared itself from a big Cancun-style wet t-shirt contest. All of this information was drip-fed via the issue of formal letters, in which elegance was stressed and originality encouraged.
A Parisian-style picnic
So somehow I convinced the husband to dress like a member of a Backstreet Boys’ tribute band, accompany me to IKEA to buy our picnic furniture and then lug it all onto the train like some pack llama.
Yet, arriving at our highly classified secret location, which turned out to be Waterfront City Docklands, the eye-rolling rules and the fact that we’d hand-carted furniture, crockery and white gypsophila across Melbourne were soon forgotten. Met by a sea of 1500 people sporting every possible shade of white, it was hard not to catch DEB fever.
You could taste the energy and excitement as everyone set up their pop-up picnic, decorating their tables with decorations that at times bordered on the ridiculously elaborate (the white profiterole tower was high up there on the eye-raising scale).
We then spent the evening eating our carefully-curated picnic fare (thank you Fitzrovia in St Kilda for carefully curating mine), trying to drink all of the champagne that we’d over ordered, having a dance off with a sea of strangers and behaving like we were at a mass wedding where everyone was the bride.
Would I do Diner en Blanc again?
On Monday morning, this question was posed from another colleague who had sniggered on repeat for the weeks prior at the money I’d thrown at the event (close to $500 after you added up the tickets, food, booze and furniture). At one point even suggesting it would be more enjoyable to scatter the cash on the floor and roll in it.
The answer is yes, I would do it again, 100%. Especially given I now have a 76cm-squared picnic table that I have no use for. Although perhaps I’d do it a little smarter next time. I’d invest in a white wheelie basket (or as I saw one Diner en Blancer do, use a yellow one strategically draped in their white tablecloth). I’d also buy the hamper that you can pick up on site. Our fancy Fitzrovia picnic didn’t really survive the journey (yet somehow the glassware did!). And avoid the red wine and beetroot sandwiches – honestly, you may as well try and kiss a bull shark.
Ultimately, how often do you get to have a licensed picnic with thousands of strangers, in an iconic location, participate in an impromptu dance party underneath the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel and have an excuse to wear a white wig (not that I did but I like the idea)? If you’re lucky enough to out-sprint the wait list, don your cricket whites and go. It’s much better than another weekend of run, brunch, shop, eat, cocktails. Repeat.