I’ve been thinking about what I should wear to San Francisco’s first flash-mob-style dinner in white. I’m also planning my menu and making a checklist of what silverware and other tableware I should bring. The location of this dinner, however, remains a secret and will be revealed to me and my 2,499 dining companions only a few hours before the actual event on October 14th.
Dinners in white are taking the world’s imagination by storm. Le Dîner à San Francisco is the latest in a string of recent dinners in the US this year modeled after the original Le Dîner en Blanc, a Parisian tradition started by Franà§ois Pasquier in 1988. Pasquier wanted to gather together a group of friends for a meal and scheduled a picnic at the Bois de Boulogne. To ensure that people could find each other in the park, invitees were instructed to wear all white. The gathering was such a success that Pasquier continued hosting these dinners yearly at various public spaces in Paris. What began 23 years ago as a simple dinner party has now evolved into a extravaganza involving over 10,000 participants and multiple locations: guests at this year’s Le Dîner en Blanc were divided between the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral.
In the last two months, New York City (8/25) and Chicago (8/27) have played host to their first white dinners, and the public response has been overwhelming. Within hours of opening online registration in New York City, over 30,000 requests were received for only 1,000 spots.
Information travels fast when the news is exciting. The organizers of Le Dîner à San Francisco came together hours after the New York Times article-detailing the expected dinner-broke on July 5th. Garrett Sathre says, “I just knew we could do it here. The same exact day I called my mom and said we have to do this right now, right away.” Within 24 hours Garrett’s mom, Elizabeth Hamon, bought multiple domain names and created a Facebook page.
New York City’s white dinner took place at the World Financial Center. Where will SF’s dinner be?
Elizabeth and Garrett are two of several members comprising the tightly knit group of SF Dîner organizers. Most come from the Bay Area’s restaurant and hospitality industry. A few weeks ago I sat in on one of the group’s planning sessions. As I looked around our circular formation-Garrett’s girlfriend and newborn baby to my left, and his brother Ryan to my right-I realized this was a genuine family affair. Brothers Garrett and Ryan co-own Bubba’s Fine Diner in San Anselmo, and Elizabeth is the Special Events Manager of Kitchen 39 Catering. But this is their first time putting together an event of this magnitude. “I’m sure there will be trial and error,” Garrett laughs, “but we’re all in the service industry, so we understand what goes into having a dinner and what people are going to want. A lot of thought was put into this. We’ve worked through…the tough stuff.”
And it seems like the San Francisco dinner is under control. Rather than risking potential administrative chaos by distributing all the invitations at once, they did it piecemeal, 250 at a time, until all 2,500 spots were filled. They are also posting tips on what to bring and what to expect on the official website and Facebook page. The biggest news is that unlike the dinners held in Paris, tables will be provided and set up for guests upon arrival. Traditionally, guests bring tables and arrange them on site. Elizabeth comments, “In New York and Chicago I noticed that there were tables that were not [placed] next to each other. And I really want them to be all in a line. I really want people to sit near each other. It will make the first hour much smoother for people. They can focus on food [instead of] transportation plans. Transportation in San Francisco is not as good as in other cities.”
Le Dîner à San Francisco organizers want to keep as close as possible to the traditions established by Le Dîner en Blanc, despite the difference in name. In the initial planning stages of the dinner, Garrett contacted Aymeric Pasquier, son of the founder, informing him of their intentions to host a dinner in white in San Francisco. Aymeric asked them to hold off until next year, but Garrett did not want to wait. In response, Aymeric requested they not use the name Le Dîner en Blanc. Interestingly enough, Aymeric plans to host Le Dîner en Blanc in San Francisco next summer.
In an interview with Untapped Cities Aymeric states, “There were three different groups of people that wanted to organize a Dîner en Blanc in San Francisco…Two of them decided to wait until next year to be part of the official Dîner en Blanc Group. One decided to go through [with it] but to change the name of the event. They asked me if they could…I agreed. Maybe next year they will join the rest of the group, as I don’t want any other Dîner en Blanc to take place [next] summer. My goal is to help organizers to setup their own Dîner en Blanc and to do it in the right philosophy and formal way my father started 23 years ago.”
We’ll see what happens next summer. But in less than two weeks from now, expect to see hundreds of people carting chairs and dressed in white roaming the streets of San Francisco. In Le Dîner en Blanc tradition, guests will convene at various locations to receive exact dinner coordinates from Le Dîner à San Francisco volunteers. For those folks lucky enough to have received an invitation, know that you are in part responsible for your own happiness that night, with the food and whatever else you bring. Wine and beer are allowed on the premises, but no hard liquor. This is a classy affair, after all. And, of course, if you don’t feel like preparing a meal, you can pre-order an official catered basket from Le Garage, a Sausalito-based restaurant. Bruno Denis, the restaurant’s general manager, is a soft-spoken native of Versailles, France, and the only Frenchman of the San Francisco organizers.
There will be dancing. There will be live music by local artists. As well as a few more surprises. According to Garrett, “People [will be] getting married there. [A couple will be] celebrating their 10th anniversary.” And, in Burning Man fashion, once the party is over, guests will pack it up and leave no trace of the evening’s exciting revelry.
Celebrating in New York City
Untapped Cities has covered Le Dîner en Blanc in NYC and Paris, and will report on the events that unfold here in San Francisco come October 14th. If you have not received an invitation to the party, you have one final opportunity today at 3 pm. Check Le Dîner à San Francisco’s Facebook page for more details. Bonne chance.