White dinners are an annual flash-event where hundreds of people take over a public place and hold an outdoor picnic one evening in summer. Here’s an introduction to how they started, what they involve, and most importantly, how to get a seat at this invitation-only event.
White dinners were the brainchild of Frenchman François Pasquier, who invited some friends to have dinner with him after he returned from living overseas in 1988. He suggested they meet at the former Royal hunting grounds and now a national park, in Bois de Boulogne, in Paris. He suggested that they all bring a picnic and that they all wear white, so they could find each other easily among the crowds of people. The event was so successful that it was repeated every year and has now spread to other cities in France and many capitals around the world.
It has always been an exclusive affair. You cannot buy tickets. You won’t know when it’s happening until you receive an invitation via email. It’s supremely difficult to get on the list; you must know someone who’s able to add your name, but once you’re on it, you stay on it. If you receive an invitation you’re allowed to invite guests but they cannot join the guest list themselves until they’re put on it.
Guests never know where the event will take place. They meet at a specific location, at a given time, or in the case of Paris, they meet at several locations, usually bars, where they can gather and have a drink. At about 8 p.m., everyone receives a text message to say where the event is being held and everyone walks together to converge on the site. In Paris, there have been White Dinners at the Louvre, in front of the Eiffel Tower, and at the Place Vendôme.
There are very specific rules that you must follow. Everyone must wear white, no exceptions. If someone breaks this rule, they are heavily frowned upon and won’t be re-invited. People must bring folding tables and chairs with white table cloths and white cloth napkins. No paper allowed. And everyone must bring proper white plates and cutlery. This is an upmarket affair. Most people prepare food—baked cakes, sushi (it’s white, of course!) and other yummy treats. Bought food is okay, so long as it isn’t in packaging. In the bigger venues, rows are marked out, so people know where to set their tables up, but there’s always a period where it takes everyone a while to get sorted and sit down. Then before the picnic begins, everyone normally runs around taking photos, because it’s just such an extraordinary sight.
White dinners now take place in many other French cities. They began in Aix en Provence a few years ago and have taken place in a few locations around the city, most notably on the main promenade, Cours Mirabeau, last June. The Police have always had a laissez–faire attitude to the event, and mostly agree that local residents have the right to use their city in this way. This was still the case after the terrorist attacks in Nice in 2016 when the country was on a high alert—people were still allowed to gather in public. Everyone is calm and respectful, making sure they take all rubbish with them, so it looks as though they have never been there. The dinners usually break up at around midnight, when many people move on to bars and clubs (usually organized in advance).
It’s an incredible event which now takes place in other cities around the world. François Pasquier’s son began the tradition in Montreal in 2009. It began in New York in 2011. And White Dinners have also been held in Germany, Singapore, Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. It is very difficult to get on the list, so if you know someone who’s on it, become their best friend for the month of June, and you just might get to tag along.