Diner En Blanc 2017

You’ve definitely seen the photos.  Dinner at dusk, long white tables with drinks, food and ornate center pieces, beautiful people dressed in their best, crispiest white attire, twinkling sparklers and dancing under the moonlight. Who wouldn’t want to be one of the lucky ones to be invited to an event like that right?  So, when I got an invite to Diner en Blanc this year I was intrigued and interested in going even though I had an idea of the work and preparation required as an attendee.

The first Diner en Blanc in Toronto was held in 2012 with about 1400 in attendance.  The original dinner debuted in Paris over 20 years ago and has since grown to over 70 cites spanning 6 continents.

blog to debPicture Credit: blogTO

The deal in a nutshell.  The event is designed as a pop-up where guests gather at a secret location that is revealed only minutes before start time.  The only way to get a “ticket” is to be invited or join a waiting list.  Once you are invited, you register on their website, provide information for you and your guest, select your meal and wine (optional) and pick your meeting spot.  If you want to sit with your friends then you must all select the same meeting spot.  Options to get to the event include walking, TTC or chartered bus and these are determined based on the location you choose.

The list of what you are expected to bring for yourself and your guest in addition to dressing from head to toe in white are:

  • Two White folding chairs (or white covers for non-white chairs)
  • Square folding Table
  • White table cloth
  • Two white napkins
  • Electric votive candles
  • Lighter for sparklers
  • Two white plates for entrees and two for dessert (china, not disposable)
  • Two sets of flatware (no plastic)
  • Two wine glasses
  • Large garbage bag (you are responsible for your own garbage)
  • An elegant three course meal (unless you pre-purchase)
  • Non-alcoholic beverages (all wine needs to be pre-purchased)

The communication from the organizers leading up to the event comes across very very strict. For example, cream or off white is not white.  If you bring umbrellas they should be clear or white. If you do not show up to the event you will lose your membership and never be invited back. As dutiful guests, despite all the rules and strict directions, we prepared in advance, got everything we needed and were ready to go.

The day of the event. I had selected the meeting spot outside the Flat Iron building near St. Lawrence market and the emails from our Team Leader told us to arrive between 5:30 and 5:45 sharp. The day was gross, it had been raining since the afternoon but then again, this entire summer has been nothing but rain.  We arrived at 5:40 and slowly had our wristbands and vouchers handed to us by the volunteers.  An hour later we finally boarded the bus.  Apparently, there was some confusion between two groups that were meeting in close proximity of each other which was partly causing our delay in leaving. Finally on our way, we found out the venue was Canoe Landing which meant we had a bit of trek to get from the East side of the city all the way to the West. In rush hour traffic. Once we left, the bus was also met with the traffic from the Jays game letting out.  I’m pretty sure the Jays schedule is released well before the season starts so why would you a) pick a date when there is another major event in the city and b) pick a location that is RIGHT NEXT to the stadium and in the direction everyone is going on their way home. Event planning 101.

Our bus, probably tired of fighting traffic near Front and Blue Jays Way, decided to take a detour which resulted in us going North and then West when we needed to be going South.  By the time we got to the venue we had been in transit for almost 2.5 hours.  We literally rushed out of the bus to get to the event area and start our set up.  We were ready to go by around 8:30. The rain started at 9, and not just rain but torrential downpour.  Apparently, there were tornado warnings earlier in the day but hey, rain or shine, right?  We left the event by 9:45.

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So, 3 hours of commuting and attending the event for about an hour all for the investment of about $150.  Listen, I’m not making a fuss about the money.  I’d be more than willing to shell that out if I was getting SOMETHING back.  Value, a memorable experience, contribution to a charity, customer service, an open bar. I got nothing.  There was little to NO communication during all the delays and transportation issues, the two volunteers on our bus were pretty much fighting in front of us and there was not even the tiniest bit of acknowledgement of the frustration our entire bus was feeling.

You’re going to see, if you haven’t already, a plethora of Instagram worthy photos popping up on your feed over the next little while with people proclaiming, “Best night ever”, “The Best Toronto event of the year” etc etc.  I’ll bet another $150 that these people didn’t have to lift a finger.

I understand that they are trying to create a sense of exclusivity and a unique experience but I don’t feel like I got any of those things.  How is an event that has 2300 people in attendance exclusive?  You want to make it exclusive? Cut your numbers in half.  Find a venue that you wouldn’t normally get access to, not one that I’d be walking my dog in on a Saturday morning.  Invest. In, let’s see, tables and chairs, staff, alcohol. Have a contingency plan for the rain instead of saying “Partying in the rain is going to be so much fun!” I didn’t even mind bringing my own food to be honest but lugging china, tables and chairs? Ridiculous.

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I’ve worked in events long enough to know that with 2300 in attendance at an average of $50 a head, the organizers are walking away with a nice chunk of change considering the overhead costs.

Oh, and my favorite part.  Pretty sure that as we were leaving, people were walking into the event who were not invited. Despite the “strict” communication and the lineup of security near the entrance, no one checked if I had a wristband on, no one checked if I had alcohol in my bag.  Super exclusive.  My plan for next year?  Wait until the event location is revealed, eat and drink in the comfort of my condo or at a lovely resto and then show up to party with 2000 of Toronto’s finest.

But the question still remains.  Are we stupid for going and continuing to go back or did the organizers find a really smart business model to run events?

Till next time, I’ll continue to sit here drying off.

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