When I sat down and thought the logistics of hauling a table, chairs, tablecloth and napkins, place settings, food, flowers and bling across the city an unknown distance while dressed in an easily stained ensemble, I admit that I was a bit daunted. There was a lot of planning, load balancing and splitting of duties between two people for what would amount to a fancy picnic. I had a moment when I was ready to chuck the whole thing to stay home and watch bad movies on my couch. Fortunately, after a conversation with Jen Luby, one of the organizers of Saturday’s Dîner en Blanc, I was convinced I had to attend.
Dîner en Blanc, a pop-up picnic in a secret public location, has been perfected by Parisians over the past twenty years but this is the first year for Chicago. I asked Jen about some of the challenges involved in producing the event in the White City. “It took a minute and a half to sell out 250 tickets. Social Media makes it easier to manage the tickets and the wait list.” About the wait list, did you intend to offer that many spots after the initial ticket sale? “We realized that not everyone was available at noon on Monday. We wanted the initial push of excitement, but always planned to offer tickets in other ways.” Like Facebook. “Yes, we posed questions on Facebook and offered tickets to people who were participating online.”
What were your challenges in finding a location for the event? “The city was intrigued, but confused about what we wanted to do. We had to explain the concept and how it would be zero impact to city resources.” And that was also the reason no alcohol would be allowed? “If you want an event with alcohol at a city venue like Millennium Park for example, you have to play by the city’s rules. Their caterers, their fees. We wanted to keep the event affordable, and focused on the novelty of having an elegant meal in an unlikely place.”
What does success look like for the first Dîner en Blanc? “If at 8:30, I look around and see happy, smiling faces, I’ll know. I want the general vibe and space to make people feel good at the end of the evening.”
Good vibes sounded good to me. But honestly? Getting there was as much work to as I thought it would be. My string of pearls unraveled to decorate a CTA car, a heel broke, and the table fought me the entire way. The entire time I wished I knew the guy who made this lightweight table. C’est la vie.
But once I arrived with my fellow diners at Daley Plaza, all the huffing and puffing faded away to a fabulous experience. The event was calm and civil, swanky and decadent, and slightly weird. The weather was perfect and everything rolled out the way it was supposed to, and Daley Plaza was indeed a sea of happy, smiling faces. We were set up by 7:30 and ate and danced and ate and played in the shadow of the Picasso until about 10:30, when our cloud of ghostly people dispersed back through the city’s trains and buses, past our harmonization points and into the night. Nothing, not even trash, was left behind to show that anything had taken place.
Read more about my Dîner en Blanc adventure on the Chicago Like a Local site!