Elegant is the name of the game. No baseball caps, running shoes or T-shirts allowed.
Diner en Blanc, or Dinner in White, is a series of outdoor epicurean feasts organized entirely via social media. Everyone who gathers at the location — revealed at the last minute — is garbed head to toe in white and totes their food. When the event is over, attendees depart with belongings, leftovers and garbage, leaving the site as it was upon arrival.
The impromptu flash mob event was created in Paris in 1988 by François Pasquier, with the goal of sharing a delicious meal with friends and respecting public spaces, along with a touch of elegance and secrecy.
His son, Aymeric Pasquier, originally from Paris but who now hails from Montreal, and Sandy Safi run the worldwide event out of that city, which is holding its fourth tres-chic picnic this summer.
"I think it's definitely a new generation of events, especially the fact we're creating a worldwide network with it with people who have the same love of the event," Safi said from Montreal, adding that the current "foodie culture" is also contributing to its popularity.
They co-produced a Diner en Blanc in New York City last year. Invitations were so coveted that there were 31,000 on the waiting list, but the Battery Park picnic was limited to 1,200 people.
Safi said when they began getting requests to hold events in other cities, "we decided to create a network where it would allow people in each city to create their own event using the same values and guidelines and history of what was set up originally but applying it to their city."
Quebec City holds its second Diner en Blanc on Aug. 16, the same day as Montreal's outing, while events are being held for the first time in Toronto on Aug. 9 and Vancouver on Aug. 30.
Other locations include Mexico City; Sydney and Brisbane in Australia; Barcelona, Spain; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Kigali, Rwanda; Milan, Italy; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Singapore and 10 U.S. cities.
"It's fascinating to be working with hosts worldwide, seeing their different passions and views of the event ... still respecting the values of our guidelines while at the same time moulding it to their city and their culture," Safi said.
They advise organizers keep the event "small" in the first year, limiting numbers to 1,300 people.
La Place du Canada in downtown Montreal was the setting for the second gathering in 2010, which consisted of 3,200 people. This year, 4,200 are expected.
"It's the kind of space I passed in front of 150 times and never actually gave it attention," Safi said. "It was just like passing through a park which I'm sure you do every day. Now suddenly you can't look at it the same way ever again."
Hosts invite their friends, who each invite a friend. Some spaces are left open for the public to apply.
Safi said her boyfriend was reluctant to attend last year but enjoyed it so much he has 28 friends going this year.
When attendees apply online they have a choice of locations at which to meet. But beyond that, they don't know where they'll end up, Safi chortled. Organizers escort them by foot, chartered bus or public transport to the secret destination.
Guests bring their own dinner, tables, chairs, tablecloths, napkins, plates, glasses and cutlery, although there is an option now to use a caterer for food. Only wine and Champagne are allowed. There is often live music and dancing.
Some people keep their repast simple, with baguettes, cheeses, cold meats and olives, while Safi has seen four people share a magnificent plate with lobster and shrimp or others may concoct an octopus or calamari salad or chicken parmesan.
People go to a lot of effort to set up their table to have it look spectacular. She said a woman in New York last year even brought goldfish to adorn her table setting.
A small charge — $24-$29 — covers the costs of transportation, entertainment, any legal fees for liquor licences and security.
Part of the success of Diner en Blanc is that "it brings people together in a different way in a different light and they really invest themselves into setting it up as opposed to going somewhere where you sit and you put your feet under the table and you're being served," Safi said.
"You're actually a participant in this event."
Diner en Blanc, www.dinerenblanc.infoSuggest a correction