Dîner en Blanc in B.C.

Dîner en Blanc Vancouver | BCBusiness
Diners celebrate at Vancouver’s inaugural Dîner en Blanc pop-up picnic in August 2012.

A look inside the mysterious Dîner en Blanc dinner parties that will be popping up in B.C. this summer

Twelve hundred people, all dressed in white, suddenly appeared at Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza one evening last August. Carrying tables, chairs and picnic fare, the diners set up and awaited the wave of a white napkin that would signal the start of their mysterious dinner party. So began Dîner en Blanc, a meticulously planned yet seemingly impromptu night of food, music and dancing that culminated in 1200 sparklers lighting up the plaza when night fell.

Western Canada had experienced its first Dîner en Blanc, a pop-up picnic that began in Paris 25 years ago, when François Pasquier instructed friends to meet for dinner wearing all white. By 1991 the secret dinners in public spaces involved thousands of Parisians and, in 2009, Pasquier’s son, Aymeric, brought the concept to Montreal. By 2014 there will be Dîner en Blanc events happening in 40 countries across five continents.

On June 27, Dîner en Blanc comes to Victoria for the first time, run as a collaboration between Aidan Henry, founder of Victoria-based Brink Events, and Vancouver marketing agency The Social Concierge, which owns the rights to the event in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary. The Social Concierge is the only event organizer to have the rights to run the party in more than one city.

“I do the same kind of private, high-end social events in Victoria that The Social Concierge do in Vancouver,” says Henry. “They know how to run these events. I’ve got connections in terms of knowing the market here, being able to bring sponsors on board, knowing all the key players and being able to sell the event—it was an obvious fit that we collaborate to bring it to Victoria.”

In 2012 The Social Concierge ran Vancouver’s Dîner en Blanc in partnership with the Alliance Française, a not-for-profit organization that operates to spread French culture, language and joie de vivre around the city.

“I got the rights to Dîner en Blanc Vancouver following almost a year of negotiations in French and English with Dîner en Blanc International,” says Tyson Villeneuve, a partner at The Social Concierge. “I used to live in Paris and first learned about the original Dîner en Blanc at that time and knew it needed to be brought to Vancouver.

“There are no events like Dîner en Blanc to compare it to in terms of size, revenue and scope, as it is so unique. The operations are quite different from the average event due to the elevated level of logistics, mystique and guest engagement.”

Henry agrees that the mysterious events are a logistic challenge to set up and coordinate. “We have to let the city know the location for liquor licences and bylaw exemptions, but we don’t want word getting out or the event would be ruined,” he says. “It’s going to be close to downtown, it’s outdoors and it fits 1200 people seated, so it has to be fairly large.”

Dîner en Blanc International sets the rules for dress codes, invitations (friends first, then friends of friends and then an open wait-list) and allows organizers to acquire three title sponsors. “We have Telus and Evian on board, but we’re just finalizing a third—most likely our transportation company,” says Henry. “Telus is more of a cash sponsor, while Evian is more product-in-kind.” The event’s transportation sponsor would contribute in-kind donations—likely charter buses, in this case.

Victoria will have volunteer “team leaders,” who are responsible for 25 tables each and “group leaders,” who look after the table leaders. Guests are allocated one of four meeting points—they must wear white, bring their tables, chairs and tableware and will only be alerted to the location on the night of the event.

At the 2012 Vancouver event 70 per cent of guests brought their own food, and the Victoria team estimates a similar uptake of its catered package. British Chef Dan Hayes from Victoria’s The London Chef dining room and cookery school will be providing pre-ordered picnics and wine can also be ordered for pick-up. “It’s pack in, pack out,” says Henry. “In theory, there’s not much for us to do after the event is over.”

The waiting list is now open at victoria.dinerenblanc.info. Tickets—which must be bought in pairs—cost $30, plus a $5 Dîner en Blanc International membership fee.