The mystique of Pique-Nique en Blanc Austin started in early March 2019. An announcement was made in the form of an online post. This year, it simply stated the date, “4.28.19,” followed by the words, “invitation to follow.”
The post was on an all-black background, with the type in white.
What Is Pique-Nique en Blanc?
Diner en Blanc, the inspiration for Pique-Nique en Blanc, began in Paris in 1988. As the story goes, Frenchman François Pasquier returned to Paris after being abroad for a few years. He wanted to reconnect with friends, but the group was too large for a private space.
As a result, he asked his friends to meet in a public space and wear all white, so they could find each other.
Other accounts mention secrecy was necessary, since Pasquier didn’t exactly have a permit for the chosen space.
How Does It Work?
As these annual Parisian dinners continued, people transferred the tradition to other cities. Today, Diner in Blanc, or some version of it, takes place in over 80 cities in 35 countries, including Austin, Texas.
The original Paris event celebrated 30 years in 2018, with over 17,000 attendees in four locations.
All pique-niques or diners en blanc share a few attributes. First, as the Austin organizer told me, the event is “fun and spontaneous!” So while the date is announced in early March, the location remains a secret until a few hours before the dinner.
During the time between the announcement and event, guests plan their approach. Helpfully, articles and links regarding food, equipment, and inspiration are posted to the shared site. As the event takes place in a public space, everything must be carried in. Guests bring everything from silverware and tables, to food and decor.
As the Date Approached
The bargaining between guests became more frantic as the event crept closer. “Okay, I’ll bring my larger table; can you bring two extra chairs?” “But you will help carry [the large table], right?”
Guests knew each other from previous events. Each attendee brought one guest, who will be directly invited next year, with their guest allowance. This is how the event grows from year to year.
While I haven’t heard of this in connection to the Austin event, organizers in other cities mention that bad behavior, such as not packing your trash out or otherwise violating the spirit of the event, may result in a “lost” invite the next year.
Pique-Nique en Blanc Austin 2019
On the appointed day, the participants received the long-awaited message with the day’s location. It was 1:30 p.m. The event started at 6:00 pm.
My guest and I met to finalize our preparations around 5:15 p.m. We cut rosemary for the chicken, arranged the flowers, put batteries in our light strings, and practiced opening the collapsible wagon we borrowed from a neighbor.
Having been told that heels were a bad idea this year, we planned our all-white outfits accordingly. We jumped in our ride share and felt the need to explain our random assortment of “luggage” to the driver, as he took us to the location for the year: Rock Park at Zilker.
After we unloaded, we packed the wagon with our food, decorations, and other necessities and began the toughest part of the night: getting our borrowed wagon to the location across the grassy field. We arrived successfully and joined the preparations.
Puzzled onlookers tried to figure out what was happening. It was sort of amazing to have such purpose among the lazy Sunday afternoon frisbee and soccer games. Food was arranged, place settings were straightened, and decorations were finalized. This was definitely the most ornate meal I’ve attended all year.
As countdown announcements were made, “10 more minutes,” the excitement built. At the appointed time, everyone took their seats, wished one another “bon appétit,” and the meal began.
Fresh Friendships Solidified
After the sun set, the battery-powered lights began to glow more prominently, and the remaining guests settled in. Intimate conversations came naturally over candlelight and lingering drinks. Many of us ended up far from our original seats. We looked at the skyline in the distance and realized “joie de vivre” is more than a catch phrase.
Bonne Nuit Austin
2019 was the seventh year for Pique-Nique en Blanc in Austin, with about 200 attendees. The next event will take place in April 2020.
You can prepare by using your best china for your next meal, sprinting across Zilker park dragging a red wagon, or generally just enjoying our great life in Austin, Texas.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you been to a Diner or Pique-Nique en Blanc?