Deluxe ‘picnic’ dining al fresco for parties of 2 to 250—no packing required

April 19, 2021

Let’s be honest, while a blanket unfurled beneath a leafy tree is the stuff of romantic movies, the DIY picnic plays out more like reality TV.

“It sounds really casual,” Jam Stewart, founder of Picnic PopUp in Nashville,  recently told The Wall Street Journal,“but when you actually go to do it [yourself], it can be a frustrating experience.”

Now, however, a new branch of the event-planning industry that focuses on bespoke picnics is making the fairy tale possible, from bucolic tête à têtes in Portland, Oregon, to afternoon teas in Houston.

Last September, Manhattanites Bailey LaMarca and Stephen Zamora, whose trip to Capri was scuttled by the pandemic, booked an oceanside picnic with Destination Haus in Montauk, New York. The couple brought in locally made lobster rolls and chilled Wölffer Estate pinot gris. For its part, Destination Haus supplied the beachy tableaux, a nautical-pillow haven surrounded by lanterns, blue glass chargers on woven place mats and perky yellow Craspedia flowers in vases.

“It was a glimmer of light in a dark year,” Zamora told the Journal, adding that he plans to make picnicking a summer tradition and already has booked one for August.

Destination Haus’s Carlyn Vellante and sister Kendra expanded their art and home-décor business into picnic planning last summer. Their mission: To give diners in the Hamptons an alternative to the humdrum experience of takeout and the excruciating waits for socially distanced outdoor seating. Business ka-boomed. The sisters planned as many as three picnics per night through October in 2020. And demand is unwavering for the 2021 season. “We’re already double-booking our dates,” said Vellante.

Most setups (with cleanups) cost $100-$200 per guest and include wedding-worthy tabletop décor, enough pillows and throw rugs to make a nest, plus floral arrangements.

While provisions aren’t always included in the price, partnerships with food vendors make delectables such as charcuterie and caviar available for an upcharge, the Journal notes. Little Picnic & Co., in San Diego, does brunch with pastries, macarons and a petite red-velvet layer cake topped with fresh flowers and gold foil.

Picnic PopUp brings in dishes from Rare Bird, the restaurant in Nashville hotel Noelle, and sometimes offers al fresco meals on its skyline-view rooftop. Houston’s Picnics in the City hosts Picnic + Yoga at Le Méridien hotel, where avocado toast fills bellies after a bendy workout.

Lockdown may have given picnic-planning a shot in the arm, but casual luxury has found a spot on the blanket, and it’s not budging.

Research contact: @WSJ

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