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Everything You Need to Picnic Like a Pro, According to the Experts

Whether you have picnic fever or are just easing back into (im)polite society, we tapped the pros at Perfect Picnic to find out what you'll need to prep for the ultimate outdoor meet-up.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
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Spring is in the air, swirling around with the promise of returning to “normal.” Last year made picnics trendy again, and even as restrictions lift, the allure of a well-appointed picnic with loved ones hasn’t diminished. 

We caught up with Wendy Weston, the founder and president of Perfect Picnic, an “experiential food business” based in New York City. Perfect Picnic, which began about 10 years ago, has grown from $25 charcuterie kits to sprawling, FOMO-worthy picnic setups.

Though the company had a fairly strong year in 2020, Weston expects a much busier summer. “People were still a little bit more afraid [last year], and we're finding now that everyone's just desperate to get together,” she says. “We’re slammed already.”

Whether you have picnic fever or are just easing back into (im)polite society, setting up a lavish picnic at your local park or beach doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Weston gave us some great tips to make reconnecting with your friends a magical experience.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Foolproof Blanket Infrastructure

Perfect Picnic swears by using painter’s tarps as the base for its picnic setups. These tarps are a great alternative to the noisy or unsightly plastic or plastic-backed options—which can kill the grass. The washable canvas material protects your nicer blankets and clothes from any wetness in the ground and the tarps come in massive sizes. “Even though we're all feeling better and we're outside, we want to be able to have space,” Weston says about this smart way to socially distance. 

If you’re headed to the beach or your park allows for stakes, you can also use a canvas tarp with grommets to prevent your base from sliding around. Pillows and cornhole bags can be great anchors in the absence of stakes, and Weston recommends starting to place your anchors on the side opposite to where the wind is blowing. 

Pillows also allow you to create layers and add comfort. To make them easier to carry, you can pack them flat in bags. Sunbrella is the gold standard when it comes to indoor/outdoor pillows, especially for solid colors. For more texture, head to World Market, and for color, you can support artists on Society6 who lend their work to throw and floor pillows.

Weston also recommends throwing a few parasols into the mix. They can be secured with pillows and offer shade to those who need some respite from the sun. She now steers clear of beach umbrellas, partially because they’re aesthetically much higher than the rest of the picnic, but more importantly because “the whole thing can crash down.” Parasols are much lighter, more affordable, and come in a variety of colors and styles.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Mini Picnic Tables

Forget about laying out your spread on the uneven ground—especially at the beach—and add a low-impact table to your picnic kit. Collapsible table stakes often feature wine glass or stem holders to help prevent spills while leaving a little room for food.

For more space and less of a balancing act, there are low, portable picnic tables, both with or without glass holders. If you’re willing to splurge a little more, you can even get a table that doubles as a basket.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Disaster-Free Cheers

If you went with a wine glass-friendly table, Weston wants you to leave your fancy glassware at home. For a reusable option, lightweight Tritan and acrylic glassware has never looked better. Tossware also makes some beloved stemless wine glasses and champagne flutes which can be hand washed or recycled after your picnic. Of course, even though the pandemic has relaxed some alcohol restrictions, check your local laws to see if drinking is permitted at parks or beaches. 

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Eco-Friendly Plates and Serveware

Even what you eat off of can get a facelift. Weston says disposable bamboo plates are particularly big this year because “they're pretty, they're durable, and they don't get soggy.” She’s also a fan of VerTerra’s collapsible boxes and platters for storing and presenting food. For a reusable option, wheat straw plates give melamine plates a run for their money, and they often come in photo-ready, muted colors.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

How to Carry It All

Wheels. Are. Your. Friend. Until a former boyfriend suggested a wagon, Weston’s earliest picnics involved a fair amount of back and forth. MacSports is a cult favorite when it comes to collapsible wagons, whether they’re single or double-tiered. If you have more room in your vehicle, definitely go for a Gorilla Cart. They perform well on various terrains and have removable walls, so a cart can become a table.

To help keep your food and drinks cool, there’s no shortage of options. While Yeti’s rolling cooler is a well-known status symbol, mainstays like Coleman and Igloo shouldn’t be counted out. Igloo’s Trailmate is a mid-range option with beach-friendly wheels while Coleman’s Soft Cooler is easier on the wallet and more compact.

Weston notes that company’s like Perfect Picnic tend to have vendors near the parks or beaches they service, but the average person should focus on fresh foods that travel well. ”You should be able to pull it out and have it taste as good at the end of the day as it does at the beginning...keep it simple.”

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