It will be all white on flash-mob picnic night

Guests arrive for the Diner en Blanc at the Museum of Military History in Jo'burg. (Wade Howard)

Guests arrive for the Diner en Blanc at the Museum of Military History in Jo'burg. (Wade Howard)

Spurred by flash-mob mania and our love affair with artisan foods, the picnic has grown up: farewell cheese sandwiches and wicker baskets; alfresco dining has become the ultimate novelty experience.

It all started 26 years ago in Paris. Returning home from a stint in Canada, the Pasquer family wanted to celebrate their reunion with friends and family. As French properties tend to be small, the family decided to meet in a park, with 50 guests dressed in white, so that it would be easy to find one another.

So much fun was had at the gathering that they decided to do it again the following year; this time everyone was encouraged to bring friends – and a legend was born.
Last year, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Diner en Blanc, 15 500 white-clad picnickers gathered beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Meanwhile, the event had made its way to other parts of the world. The first international Diner en Blanc was staged in Montreal in 2011; the following year, New Yorkers were donning white outfits. By 2013 – the same year that Diner en Blanc was launched in Johannesburg – the event was celebrated in 45 countries worldwide.

Camilla Anderson, who, with partner Samantha Croad, bought the rights to host Diner en Blanc in South Africa, notes with pride that the Johannesburg event was the most successful first-time picnic hosted to date. Aiming to attract 800 guests, 1 500 people were welcomed to a site – revealed for the first time on the night itself – beneath the Angel of Hope at the South African Museum of Military History.

No marketing allowed
This was no small feat, given that one of the rules of the event is that no marketing is allowed. "The idea is that like-minded people are brought together to enjoy a special occasion. We don't want to coax people to come, because you don't attend Diner en Blanc so much as participate in it – we provide a table and chairs but you have to plan your own menu, décor and outfit," Anderson says.

And therein lies the appeal of the flash-mob picnic. For a generation of people who no longer enjoy clubbing, and for whom restaurants have become de rigueur, they provide an opportunity to experience something extraordinary.

The fact that you have to register for the event, rather than casually joining it midway, adds to its allure, as does the community created by eager participants all instagramming and tweeting about their white night.

Leveraging this enthusiasm for seeking out the novel, Stephan Dau launched the Grand White Dinner in Cape Town in March. It is to be one of several "white" events, including a white festival and white ball, he's hosting this year.

Why white? "It's beautiful," he says. Plus, there are the inevitable associations with matrimony, which – as 70% of the 1 200 people who attended Cape Town's dinner are married – is a good thing in his books. "These are people who want an interesting night out with conversation and music."

To address their hunger for the "new", the Grand White offers burlesque-style entertainment: think acrobats, stilt-walkers and magicians, followed by bands. "It's all about having fun. We cater for an older crowd who are looking for new ways to be entertained – and having fresh conversations with new people answers that need," says Dau.

Food trucks
It's not always white tablecloths and secret venues, however. On Valentine's Day, Johannesburg's most popular food trucks – Tutto Food, Balkan Burger, StrEAT Cuisine, Vuyo's Wors and Full of Beans – joined forces to host Mother Truckers, a food-truck picnic.

What was expected to be a neighbourhood event attracted more than 1 500 people, all of whom, according to Tutto Food's Daniel Forsthofer, were eager to experience the unique romance of food trucks: "It's about artisanal food, created with care, and having a new food experience."

Add a sprinkling of family and friends, blend slowly together, and you have a fail-proof recipe for a memorable occasion.

The Grand White Dinner takes place in Johannesburg on April 26 and in Durban on May 17. Mother Truckers are planning a picnic on May 7.

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