Outdoor dining tips from a Dîner en Blanc expert

North Shore News

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diner en blanc
Dîner en Blanc expert Alexandra Thompson (right), shown here with fellow outdoor dining dazzler Kirsten Donald, shares some of her secrets for throwing an unforgettable outdoor dinner party. Photo: Alexandra Thompson

Dining outdoors sounds absolutely charming, but there are challenges that go beyond finding the best angle for your perfect Instagram pic.

What foods are best suited for an al fresco setting? What’s the most practical way to set an outdoor table while still keeping it chic? Where can you buy an all-white ascot? How can you beat everyone to the secret location?

OK, those last two questions are more specifically related to guests at the annual Dîner en Blanc, which returns to Vancouver Aug. 8. The outdoor event is rooted in a Parisian phenomenon – basically a pop-up picnic where guests dress head-to-toe in white – and is now more than 30 years old. Guests bring their own folding tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware and meals to a scenic “secret location” somewhere in the city. The guests meet with table leaders who shepherd them to the event location, so it’s a secret until the last minute.

We’ve enlisted the help of North Vancouver native Alexandra Thompson, owner of Yaletown fashion boutique Wardrobe Apparel, to gives some outdoor dining tips. Thompson is a veteran Dîner en Blanc table leader who loves how the event “really offer people a chance to step out of the ordinary.” Whether you’re planning on taking in this year’s Dîner (some last-minute spots are still available until Monday), or you’re thinking of throwing your own dinner party, Thompson has some advice for doing it right while dressed in white.

Decor and equipment

Keep it simple when it comes to the foundations and invest in some key pieces. I have had my entire Dîner en Blanc set for years and have never had to purchase an additional item. For tables head to Canadian Tire, for chairs head to Ikea, and for decor go to the Dollar Store. If you are planning on going to Dîner, a dolly is a lifesaver for helping you haul in your supplies. You can say “hello dolly” at any Home Depot or London Drugs. The dolly is a great investment if you attend Dîner with a group of friends. My group usually consists of about 10 of the same friends each year and we co-ordinate to use the dolly together. You can find great linens and china pieces at the Dollar Store that you can set aside for following years (and if they break, you won’t be upset!).

Food

With a group mindset my table usually puts effort into a family-style spread. Charcuterie, prosciutto wrapped figs, chocolate dipped strawberries etc. We band together to set a long table that we all share. This has worked for us for years, but if you are new to the Dîner en Blanc scene and want to keep it very easy then I suggest opting for the catered option offered by Hawksworth – you can order their picnic boxes when you register for your ticket and then you just pick everything up onsite. So easy!

Fashion

This is where guests get to show their creativity. Vancouver doesn’t host many events where attendees have the option to all ALL OUT. For Dîner en Blanc, you can either keep it simple and elegant or bring out your inner avant-garde trendsetter. I highly recommend shoes be flats, block or wedges (as guests never quite know where the location will be it’s important to be prepared for grass or pavement). For menswear, I suggest shopping at Hudson’s Bay or Top Shop. For ladies fashion, head to Nordstrom or this great little Yaletown shop I know called Wardrobe Apparel (wink wink!). Shoes can be easily found at Winners. For the extra creative pieces, like gems or extensions, head to Amazon.

Now you look great, you’ve packed all your supplies and you’re ready to dine! Happy eating and happy celebrating!