The intriguing concept of a secret picnic party known as Dîner en Blanc (or “Dinner in White”) was launched nearly 30 years ago in Paris. The mysterious event consists of a select roster of guests being invited to a top-secret – only revealed at the last minute – location for a gourmet dinner in a public space. All participants must bring their own tables, chairs, linens, china and silver. And they must dress all in white. Once the meal is over, guests pack up, clean up, and leave the space exactly as they found it before vanishing into the night.
The summertime event has spread internationally to more than 70 cities around the world, with close to 120,000 guests participating annually. It’s not easy to get on the guest list for this most exclusive party – waiting lists for the event can run into the tens of thousands.
However, if you’re bent on making a splash this Labor Day weekend, who needs to wait for an invitation? Consider throwing your own private version of the dining phenomenon. It’s sure to delight your friends, as well as put a fitting cap on the last moments of summer. Here are some ideas to get started.
First, the Location
The classic Dîner en Blanc is held outdoors in a beautiful urban space. You don’t need to be in a big city, however, to scout the perfect location for your White Party. Do you have an apartment or private residence rooftop or deck available? A park site nearby? Perhaps simply your own backyard will work?
Get creative scouting, but keep in mind the following tips:
- How many people do you plan to invite? This will dictate to some extent where you set up your site.
- What are the availability requirements of the grounds? If it’s a park or garden, do you need to formally reserve a spot?
- If you have your heart set on a rooftop or some other space belonging to a community living structure, will you be able to obtain permission from the landlord or property manager to have a party?
- Where exactly is the location – will it be difficult for anyone in your party with mobility issues to access it?
- Are there any restrictions on items you can bring? (Some parks don’t allow glass containers, for example.)
- If hosting at your own home, will you be prepared with enough room in your outdoor space?
Second, the Top Secret Invites
Once you’ve decided on a location that will work, it’s time to send out invites. Part of the fun of the Dîner en Blanc is the element of surprise, so you will want to keep certain details secret until the last minute.
Choose a white-themed invite (paper or paperless post) and be sure to include the following instructions to your guests:
- Dress all in white.
- Bring your own tableware (the actual event dictates attendees must bring their own tables, but you may want to spare your guests this laborious task – use your best judgment).
- Bring a dish to share potluck style. When RSVP-ing, guests can specify whether they are bringing appetizer, entrée, salad, dessert, etc. in order for you to keep track and ensure an evenly divided spread.
- Text your number on the day of the event for the top-secret location to be revealed!
Your Finishing Touches
Wherever you decide to have the party, make sure you decorate with lots and lots of…you guessed it, white. If you’ve chosen to accommodate guests with seating, request white tables and chairs from a rental company. Or, simply cover whatever tables you have available with white tablecloths. Fill vases with mounds of white flowers, and tie white balloons to the chairs. Make simple placecards out of white cardstock.
The menu will consist of your friends’ potluck contributions, but you can add to the white theme on a culinary level by providing white wine, champagne, white cheeses, strawberries and cream, steamed milk beverages for after dinner, etc.
Finally, Off Into the Night
The final element of the Dîner en Blanc is essential: Guests are expected to clean up the event so completely that they don’t leave a single trace of what happened! Be sure to inform your friends of this before the meal starts – but make it a fun, mysterious, and intriguing obligation, not a chore.
Bring trash bags along to stow out of sight during dinner, then hand out for an easy collaborative cleanup. Enlist the help of your stronger friends to break down the tables and fold up the chairs – make sure you have adequate transportation to move all the items back home. Poof! It’s as if nothing ever happened!
Don’t be surprised if you find your friends clamoring for an annual Dîner en Blanc event every Labor Day. Your waiting list may not approach the tens of thousands, but we’re sure you’ll find it growing year by year!