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How to organize a picnic


What says  “summer heat is over”  better than a picnic in a park?  The combination of food, good friends, and a shady spot on a warm, sunny day is hard to beat.  Here are some ideas for organizing your event to help it be as relaxing and hassle-free as can be. 

Location

A lot of people forget to reserve a location for a picnic, but it’s necessary if you’re planning for a large group, or if you will need a grill, table, or other amenities. 

Most local governments have a Parks & Rec department (nope, that’s not just in fictitious Indiana towns!).  Typically, that’s where you go to find out about local parks and reserve spaces suitable for your group size.  When you’re selecting a location, consider proximity to parking or public transportation, especially if you and your guests are likely to have to schlep lots of stuff to your site.  Also look into access to running water and toilets, and other things you may want like tables, a shelter, grills, open space for games, and/or playground equipment. If you’re planning a picnic around a holiday, think Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4th etc,  be sure to reserve a spot as soon as you can. 

Food

Often, picnics are organized as potlucks, where everyone contributes to the spread. To avoid ending up with ten bags of potato chips and no watermelon, you can assign people categories of food to bring.  Or, if you want to ensure that people get to bring what they most enjoy bringing, simply set up a sign-up list. Sign-up Genius makes this super easy, but a simple Google Doc will also work.  

Of course, it’s fine if you want to handle the food yourself, just let people know that in your invitation.

If you’ll be grilling, don’t forget to pack a grill brush, spatula, metal skewers, hot pads, and charcoal.  How much charcoal will you need? That depends on what you’re cooking, and how many people you’re expecting.  Here are some guidelines to help you plan.  Don’t forget a water bucket to put out the coals when you’re finished. 

Keep in mind that there is a growing trend where people who used to eat meat do not eat it any more, so respect those choices by putting foil down on grill and using separate utensils that don’t touch meat.

To figure out the right quantity of beverages like wine or beer for your party, plan on one drink per person per hour; for non-alcoholic drinks, plan on one per person per hour plus one more. It’s likely not everyone will actually consume that much, but planning on that as an average should keep you covered. Whatever else you may be serving, be sure to provide abundant water.  Dehydration can ruin the experience for you and your guests. 

Tablecloths do wonders when it comes to making a picnic feel special, not to mention clean.  Take along some lightweight reusable plates and cups and real utensils to minimize waste and increase enjoyment.  (Who really likes eating off soggy paper plates, or throwing away single-use styrofoam, anyway?)

Finally, be sure to pack extra ice to keep things cold so no one gets sick.

Activities: 

Although food may be the main attraction, it’s nice to plan things that folks can do together before and after the buffet line.  Look for things that people with varying skill levels can enjoy, and if you’re including competitive games, think of a way to handicap highly skilled folks so it’s fun for everyone. Here are some ideas for activities and handicaps:

  • Lawn darts (the non-sharp ones, of course)
  • Kickball (kick with non-dominant foot, run backwards etc)
  • Crafting area in the shade (no handicaps needed)
  • Horseshoes  (no need to handicap; most people aren’t too skilled 😉 )
  • Bocce, if someone is willing to bring the heavy set (throw with opposite arm)
  • Corn Hole – a picnic classic (under the leg throws, or maybe blindfolded, or maybe not)
  • Ladderball (skilled folks play further back)

If you’re inviting people who don’t know each other, consider starting with an ice breaker.  For example, tape an index card on the back of each person’s shirt, without letting them know what it says.  Their job is to find the person in the crowd with a phrase that goes with theirs in some way. For example, the person whose card says  “Marie Antionette” has to find the one that says “I like to eat cake” — all without reading each other’s cards aloud.  

People:

Whether you’re inviting friends or neighbors, co-workers or family, keep in mind that people are really busy.  Give everyone at least two weeks notice, preferably more like 4-6 weeks. Use evites or other easy ways to invite electronically and track responses.  If your friends are on Facebook, create a Facebook Event and invite them there. Or course, most people appreciate reminders one week out and the day before.

Enjoy your picnic!

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