Dîner en Blanc: Keep a Secret, Pass it On

Jelena Vuckovic Hidden Wonders0 Comments

Paris, 1988

If you happened to be friends with a certain elegant Frenchman by the name of Francois Pasquier in the Paris of the 80s, he may have invited you to a secretive picnic somewhere in the 16th arrondissement. Or one of his friends may have, as each of them was asked to bring a companion. Only the day of the picnic would you have received word of its exact location: the Bois de Boulogne.

You would have packed a basket with your own food and walked, or perhaps biked along summer streets towards the park. Along the Champs-Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe. You and all other guests would have been asked to wear white from head to toe, to be able recognize newcomers and assemble easily.

Mr. Pasquier, the host, would have been wearing an off-white blazer, with a rose pinned to the lapel. That gathering on a sunny day in June was the celebration of a birth, although guests may not have known it yet: Dîner en Blanc – dinner in white – was born.

Dîner en Blanc Today

The picnic was such a success that Mr. Pasquier decided to do it again the following June, at a different location, with everyone from the last picnic asked to bring one more guest.

From these humble beginnings, the event grew and grew.

Today, even if you’re not Parisian, you can attend a Dîner en Blanc closer to home.

The founder’s son, Aymeric Pasquier, introduced Dîner en Blanc to Montreal, and other places followed suit.

Over the years, numerous cities around the world over have hosted the coveted affair in white, with Singapore being the first Asian city to play host in 2012 and Brisbane kicking off the Australian edition. Thirty cities throw their own white dinner parties in the US alone. To date, Dîner en Blanc has been held in more than 70 cities over six continents.

Take a look at some of the locations:

Dîner en Blanc New York

Diners in New York could admire the Manhattan skyline during their meal.

Photo Source: Joe Cavallini

Dîner en Blanc Chicago

In the windy city, attendees congregated around the famous Picasso statue in Daley Plaza.

Photo Source: Liz Barrett

Dîner en Blanc Singapore

The sun setting over the first Asian city to host a DeB event, Singapore.

Photo Source: L’Officiel Singapore

Dîner en Blanc Kigali

The dinner in white in the Rwandan capital of Kigali

Photo Source: Living In Kigali

Mr. Pasquier, the father of Dîner en Blanc, makes a point to attend dinners around the world as often as possible, and is known to be spotted sharing a meal with guests in New York, Montreal and, of course, Paris.

The event may have become something of an open secret, but a secret it is, still: register online and find out the location of the dinner the day of the event.

It may no longer just be Mr. Pasquier’s close circle, but however many people dressed in white show up at any given dinner, they do so to break bread together – and what is friendship if not that.

Photo Source: Xavier Francolon

Paris Through the Years

This year, as before, the flagship event was hosted in Paris on June 8th. The original event is somewhat different from its spinoffs, in that it costs only 2€ per couple.

The reason for this is that for almost 30 years, Dîner en Blanc has been organized in Paris without authorization. Since it started out as a small gathering it has grown organically into one of the most important events in the French capital’s calendar and French authorities have understood its value, knowing that the event is always organized in a safe manner and does no harm to the city or its people.

In 2013 an eye popping 15,000 diners celebrated the 25th anniversary. The 30th anniversary will take place next year, and by all accounts should be the largest one yet.

The event is an unforgettable experience to participate in, to be sure, but is a glorious sight to behold in photographs as well. Just look at the events of the past few years without wanting to go:

2017. Hotel de Ville

This year’s dinner saw people gathering before the Hôtel de Ville in impressive numbers, bathing the square in a sea of white.

Photo Source: Ray Maker

2015. Palais Royal

Befitting the occasion, the elegant bonvivants gathered at the royal palace in 2015, and, it must be said, don’t look one bit out of place.

Photo Source: Gonzalo Fuentes

2014. Pont Alexandre III

For the Diner en Blanc in 2014, regular Parisians had to give up the banks of their river and a few bridges, among them the Pont Alexandre III, pictured below.
Photo Source: Fancy Oli

2013. Trocadero and Le Louvre – the 25th anniversary edition

The anniversary get-together drew record crowds to the two locations chosen especially for this occasion: the Trocadero esplanade with the perhaps best view in town and the Louvre, some museum, apparently. Close to 15, 000 attendants made this Diner en Blanc the largest ever.

Photo Source: Mary Kay Bosshart

2012. Notre Dame

Diners in white enjoy their meals at the Notre-Dame.

Photo Source: Gonzalo Fuentes

How To Attend Dîner en Blanc

If all of this really makes you want to participate, we don’t blame you. Truth be told, the Paris event may not be the best place to start since it is by far the most difficult to conquer, so your best bet is trying another city. Good thing you’ve got so many to choose from!

Wherever you go, the fact remains that this is one of the most exclusive events the world over, so you will need a game plan to get in. That, and a companion: all tickets are sold in pairs, so you cannot go alone.

As for the cost, there are no exorbitant fees: expect to pay a small yearly membership fee (9$) and a fee to cover the costs of the event (30-40$, depending on the location, Paris excluded).

To get invited, you must either know somebody who is a member and promise to watch their pet while they are on vacation so they will invite you, or you can join the queue on the waiting list and hope for the best.

Look, no one said it would be easy, but it is worth it.

There are three phases to the invitation process:

Phase one: Longtime members, close friends of the organization, table leaders and volunteers get their tickets first. Volunteers are able to attend for free and can invite up to three couples. Volunteer announcements can be found on the event website or facebook page before a given dinner.

Phase two: friends invited by the people in phase one can purchase their tickets in this round.

Phase three: the invitations left after the first two phases go to those on the waiting list. It works on a first-come-first-served basis and sells out quickly, so make sure to register well in advance. Invitations to the event are sent out 24-48 hours prior to each registration phase and sell out within minutes.

The size of the event may seem daunting and chaos a given, but be aware that this is no giant stag party: one and all are to converge for the dinner in their Sunday best and the decorum and care a fully white outfit requires at a dinner with red wine. Then as now, Dîner en Blanc makes you experience the most iconic city squares like never before: dressed in the finest white.

Preparing For Le Dîner

So you know someone who knows someone, signed up as a volunteer or got really lucky. Either way, you get a letter that starts with something like this:

Mr. and Mrs. White have the pleasure to invite you to be part of the temporary thrill of an exceptional dinner.”

Congratulations, you made it and have a spot reserved for you, and a guest, of course, at the next instalment of the most coveted bring-your-own affair in the world. So what now?

The list of things to procure may seem endless, and will certainly be the largest expense associated with attending, but you can mix, match and borrow, and reuse (almost) everything for the dinner next year, which you will doubtless want to attend as well.

First, go out and get a white outfit. No accent colors, please. This is probably not the time to break out those flamingo pumps, although as of 2017, certain DeB locations allow for metallic accessories.

Photo Source: Jonathan Evans Photo

Anything goes as long as it is formal and white. Going all out is encouraged. As this is a rain or shine event and not attending when you have an exclusive spot is a huge faux pas, you may have to incorporate a white or transparent raincoat, poncho and/or umbrella into your look depending on the weather. Unless the world ends on that day, you will have to attend, or be blacklisted.

Photo Source: Tara Walton/Toronto Star

Also on your shopping list should be: a rectangular or square folding table with maximum dimensions specified by the organizers before the event, two chairs, trash bags for cleanup, and a white tablecloth and napkin, emphasis on cloth.

It may also be the time to dust off the set of fine China your aunt gave you for your wedding that you never use, because plastic is unacceptable.

Photo Source: Monika Hibbs

Don’t forget decorations! Here, as everywhere, the same rules apply: take it as far as you want with flowers, napkin rings, candles (flameless, please), anything goes on your table as long as it is classy and white, silver or transparent. A wagon or trolley of some type is essential, just ask anyone who thought they can do without one. Everything that is not white, silver or transparent must be covered in white cloth or be small enough to be stowed away from sight under your table.

As for the meal, it is the only exception to the rule and can be any color, although if you want to go crazy and have an all-white menu, go right ahead.

What it does have to be is three courses and gourmet, s’il vous plait, so don’t show up with a KFC bucket of chicken.

Also forgo the hard liquor and beer in favor of wine or champagne of the fine kind.

If you’re no barefoot contessa, you have the option of ordering your food, wine and/or champagne from the DeB store, too. If bringing your own things to a Dîner en Blanc, make sure to be sensitive to local customs and laws – in the case of alcohol consumption in public, for instance – to avoid trouble. To make things easier, you may want to get organized with other attendees in your group and adopt a potluck system.

Photo Source: Monika Hibbs

Finally, you are strongly encouraged to do a trial run of your dinner at home.

This is an epicurean bonanza to (and from) which you will be transporting part of your dining room and kitchen, and the event relies on people being organized, prepared, and able to pull such an operation off seamlessly. You don’t want to discover your plates are too large for the table in a city square filled with people doing an incredible job.

You may be tempted to fold the corners of your tablecloth over the set table and dumping the whole thing in a bag. This is not recommended. Devotees of the Dîner en Blanc take this event very, very seriously, and you are expected to do the same. This dedication is what makes Dîner en Blanc possible, and such a magical experience for everyone involved.

Dîner en Blanc: On The Day

The wait is finally over, you’ve got all fronts covered and could pull the whole thing off in your sleep. At long last, the day has come: the dinner is tonight. You’ve got the mail with the last minute instructions and the location of your group meeting point. Exciting! Well ahead of time, you arrive on an unassuming street corner to a peculiar sight.

A crowd of people dressed in their Sunday best, all ready to move houses, it seems: suitcases, bags, boxes, someone even brought a cake fit for a royal wedding.

Photo Source: Jasmine Chen

Looking around, you can spot the newbies, like yourself, bewildered at the dedication of the returning faces: those with no speck of an offending color. White frames on their glasses, a white face on their watch, someone in a white wig, even. You can’t help but let the nervousness move out to let the excitement in and feel proud to be one of them, and not among the passersby craning their necks.

Following your group leader, you will head to the location of the event walking on foot, by chartered busses or public transport. Don’t bother asking your group leader, you will not be able to “just meet at the location”. It is a secret and will remain one until the very last minute.

Just know that wherever you end up is sure to be one of the world’s most beautiful manmade squares. You are about to participate in the experience of a lifetime.

Photo Source: Jasmine Chen

Reaching the actual location, you will see the rows upon rows of tables already set out and the droves of elegantly dressed people putting the finishing touches on their table settings.

You set up promptly, taking care not to chip the glasses. Now, there is nothing left to do but wait. Etiquette dictates that you only sit down once every table in your row is set up, so you may take this time to walk around and marvel at the effort some people have put into their presentation. Take in the excitement.

Photo Source: Jasmine Chen

Look around you at the masses in white, and feel the rush of being human and belonging somewhere.

For the time of a dinner, you are one of the diners in white. Once everyone is settled in, people swing their white cloth napkins, cheering, to signal the successful occupation of a public space. With this long standing tradition, your dinner can begin.

Photo Source: Jo Aitken/Virginie Binet-Johnson

Enjoy your meal in fabulous surroundings and to the sound of thousands of glasses clinking. A live band plays as you sip the wine or sample those delightful puffs from the table next to you. There’s no stage set up– the musicians must bring everything with them and leave with all things they brought, just like everyone else. Once you are done, look around you at the growing constellation of lights. Dinner guests customarily light sparklers (provided by the organizers) to mark the end of the dinner and opening of the dance floor. Take the person across the table from you by the hand and go cut up a rug, you deserve it.

After you’ve worn out your shoes and the clock strikes midnight, it’s time for the clean up.

The locations of Dîner en Blanc are not technically meant for dining and are public places, so extra care must be taken to leave your spot clean and intact. You will repack everything you brought to take home and collect the trash in bags you brought. Make sure to leave the place as you found it – an empty spot on a city square. Like nothing ever happened here. In a few hours time, passersby won’t know the magic this place holds. But you will.

Photo Source: Katie Rose/Vita Images

How to Host a Dîner en Blanc Event

If all of this appeals to you but you can’t find a Dîner en Blanc close enough for comfort, you can host one yourself.

That’s right. You want to apply to host a Dîner en Blanc in your city, please go to the DnB website and register. They require a minimum of 6 months to help you organize an event, so plan well ahead.

Dîner en Blanc charge no fees for hosting or using their trademark, but you must understand the scale of this event and take responsibility for all that comes with it.

Each guest will pay 30-40$ to the local host of the event – i.e. you – in order to attend. This will cover things like security, insurance etc. for the dinner.

As a host, you will need to obtain all relevant permits from their respective government offices, and the insurance and security will have to be arranged for as well. Paris, as mentioned before, is an exception to this otherwise very strict procedure.

As for the public safety aspect of Diner en Blanc, there is not much to worry about. While a dinner such as this draws large crowds of unsuspecting and rather conspicuous people, the secret nature of the event and the last minute reveal of the location all but guarantee the safety of the attendants.

Dîner en Blanc Host City List

To make it easier for you to participate, here’s a list of cities to choose from and the options for getting in:

Continent Country City Date
Europe France Paris June
Europe Greece Athens TBA
Europe Spain Barcelona TBA
Europe Romania Bucharest August
Europe Hungary Budapest September
Europe UK London September
Europe Spain Madrid TBA
Europe Russia Moscow TBA
Europe Italy Milan TBA
Europe Czech Republic Prague TBA
Europe Sweden Stockholm TBA
Europe Lithuania Vilnius August
Europe Croatia Zagreb September
Americas Canada Calgary August
Americas Canada Edmonton TBA
Americas Canada Edmunston August
Americas Canada Fort McMurray June
Americas Canada Grand Moncton June
Americas Canada Halifax July
Americas Canada Montreal August
Americas Canada Niagara TBA
Americas Canada Okanagan July
Americas Canada Ottawa TBA
Americas Canada Quebec August
Americas Untited States Albuquerque September
Americas Untited States Atlanta October
Americas Untited States Baltimore July
Americas Untited States Boston September
Americas Untited States Charleston April
Americas Untited States Chicago August
Americas Untited States Cincinnati June
Americas Untited States Dallas October
Americas Untited States Honolulu September
Americas Untited States Houston TBA
Americas Untited States Las Vegas October
Americas Untited States Long Island October
Americas Untited States Los Angeles October
Americas Untited States Miami March
Americas Untited States New Orleans May
Americas Untited States New York August
Americas Untited States Orange County TBA
Americas Untited States Orlando TBA
Americas Untited States Philadelphia August
Americas Untited States Phoenix TBA
Americas Untited States Pittsburgh September
Americas Untited States Portland August
Americas Untited States Richmond August
Americas Untited States Sacramento October
Americas Untited States San Diego September
Americas Untited States San Francisco TBA
Americas Untited States Seattle July
Americas Untited States Washington D.C. August
Americas Untited States West Palm Beach TBA
Americas Argentina Buenos Aires October
Americas Bahamas Nassau TBA
Americas Brazil Rio de Janeiro TBA
Americas Brazil Sao Paulo April
Americas Colombia Cartagena TBA
Americas Costa Rica San Jose March
Americas Dominican Republic Santo Domingo December
Americas Haiti Haiti TBA
Americas Jamaica Kingston March
Americas Mexico Guadalajara TBA
Americas Mexico Leon TBA
Americas Mexico Monterrey TBA
Americas Mexico Mexico City November
Americas Mexico Puebla TBA
Americas Mexico Queretaro April
Americas Panama Panama City April
Americas Puerto Rico San Juan March
Americas Trinidad and Tobago Port of Spain May
Pacific Australia Adelaide TBA
Pacific Australia Brisbane November
Pacific Australia Canberra TBA
Pacific Australia Darwin May
Pacific Australia Fraser Coast October
Pacific Australia Gold Coast September
Pacific Australia Melbourne TBA
Pacific Australia Perth TBA
Pacific Australia Sydney November
Pacific New Zealand Auckland March
Pacific New Zealand New Plymouth TBA
Pacific New Zealand Tauranga March
Africa Côte d’Ivoire Abidjan December
Africa Kenya Nairobi TBA
Africa Kenya Mombasa TBA
Africa Nigeria Lagos TBA
Africa Rwanda Kigali July
Africa Senegal Dakar TBA
Africa South Africa Cape Town TBA
Africa South Africa Johannesburg March
Asia/Middle East Thailand Bangkok TBA
Asia/Middle East South Korea Busan August
Asia/Middle East United Arab Emirates Dubai TBA
Asia/Middle East Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City March
Asia/Middle East Hong Kong Hong Kong TBA
Asia/Middle East Malaysia Kuala Lumpur TBA
Asia/Middle East India Mumbai TBA
Asia/Middle East South Korea Seoul May
Asia/Middle East China Shanghai September
Asia/Middle East Singapore Singapore June
Asia/Middle East Israel Tel Aviv TBA
Asia/Middle East Japan Tokyo TBA

This, in short, is just about everything you need to know about Dîner en Blanc. The only way you can ever truly know what these secretive, enticing and wildly attractive dinners are about, however, is by actually going to one. While we cannot help you in getting an exclusive spot on the list, we wish you the best of luck.

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