Opinion: Dîner en Blanc Isn’t Meant To Be ‘Cool’

“Thing is, an ephemeral ‘cool’ factor has never been our goal.”

Ed Note: Our Food Editor Neal McLennan, wrote a piece titled Diner en Blanc Is Deeply Uncool, and I supported him writing it, despite the fact that VanMag is also a sponsor of the event. Some of you loved it, some of you hated it, but it’s fair to say it created quite a bit of conversation about the event and Vancouver itself. The organizers, Social Concierge, asked if they could have the opportunity to respond, so we’ve given them this space to have their say, Letter to the Editor style. Let the debates continue!—Anicka Quin, Editorial Director, Vancouver magazine  A vanmag.com op-ed by Food Editor Neal McLennan recently labeled Dîner en Blanc “deeply uncool.”Maybe, he’s right.Thing is, an ephemeral “cool” factor has never been our goal.The Social Concierge is inspired to produce cultural experiences that make our city more vibrant. We understand that not everyone is going to love what we do, but we welcome those who do.Regardless of the article, last night, 4,000 people from across the Lower Mainland attended the seventh Dîner en Blanc at VanDusen Botanical Garden.Over the course of five hours, our guests came together, set up tables and ate with friends. They met and interacted with strangers seated around them. They enjoyed an electric atmosphere created by over 100 local artists, and were treated to a live performance by the VSO. They danced. They waved their napkins in the air to start the dinner and lit sparklers to mark its end.From where we stand, it was a success.Maybe Dîner en Blanc isn’t your thing. Hey, that’s OK.What’s not OK is implying the 30,000 guests that have attended the event over the last seven years are misguided, or naïve, or somehow uncool. That’s a lot of finger pointing, even in today’s fractious social media landscape.According to the article, the event falls short of the mark for four main reasons: elitist language on its website, the insistence on an all-white dress code, an exorbitant ticket price for access to a public space, and not building an “actual” community in a city starving for real human connection.Obviously we take exception, and here’s why:The Dîner en Blanc website is an automated translation from the original French. Translation is an art and Google still has a ways to go, but that website portal is identical for each and every one of the 70-plus cities in the world that host the event. Each city is free to create its own distinct ambiance, and we have made a concerted effort to promote local art and artists.As for the all-white dress code, the event is called “Dîner en Blanc.” It doesn’t get more straightforward than that. Wearing all white isn’t an elitist statement. If anything, it serves to put everyone on the same level. Why is joining in the fun and dressing to theme so worthy of derision? Are Dîner en Blanc attendees any more deserving of mockery or ridicule than, say, Canucks fans in their official jerseys or members of the Beyhive proudly popping their swag post-concert?Many of our guests spend weeks creating elaborate costumes and table settings as a creative outlet. They’re rightly proud of their efforts. Sure, there may be some over-sharing on social media, but it’s no more egregious than our compatriots flashing their colours at Rogers Arena or duck-facing at BC Place.Speaking of those venues, Dîner en Blanc’s entry fee is a fraction of the cost of mid-level seats to pro sports or a stadium tour. Throw down $500 on Coldplay tickets or 50-yardliners for the BC Lions and no one will say a word. Dîner en Blanc’s outdoor venues involve just as many logistical concerns as a big-ticket event—we’re building new infrastructure from scratch every year.This year’s ticket fee, taxes included, is $55.50 per person. $10.53 comes off the top for licensing to Dîner en Blanc International. $42.06 covers logistics, municipal and provincial permitting, security, compensation for local artists and performers, sanitary facilities, sound and lights, site set-up and post-event cleanup. That leaves a whopping $3.09 per ticket for overhead and salaries to our hard-working staff.All in, we think that’s a pretty good deal for one night’s entertainment in a fantastic, one-of-a-kind venue.All of this brings us to the article’s final misunderstanding, that Dîner en Blanc doesn’t build “actual” community.Our attendees range in age from their early 20s to their mid-80s, with many returning every year. We’ve built a close-knit family of over 250 volunteer “Table Leaders” who each put in upwards of 50 hours mentoring and shepherding their assigned guests. They receive no special privileges, taking on this responsibility in a spirit of bringing people together. Totally uncool.So far, Dîner en Blanc has raised over $28,000 in donations to the Alliance Française to upgrade its library and childhood education department. Kids learning French is très uncool.The Social Concierge heartily believes civic engagement and community-building take many forms. Every voice is valid, especially those of dissent. The difference is, we didn’t complain. Instead, we created. We were so busy improving our event and striving to bring positive, cultural change to a city we love, we didn’t even notice how cool we weren’t.And with that, we’re going to get back to work, because next year always comes sooner than you think.