How to Pull Off the Perfect Picnic

by Matt Moore on April 30, 2012 · 27 comments

in Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

Picnics lead to marriage.

Okay gents, now that I’ve got your attention, allow me to explain.

Less than two years ago, I met the woman of my dreams.  I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve always been a pretty picky guy when it comes to dating.  However, within a few hours of meeting my future bride-to-be, I knew that I could spend the rest of my life with her.  It was just that simple– when you know, you know.  Yet, life and love are always more complicated. Our problem?  I lived in Nashville, while she was just moving to Los Angeles, by way of NYC.  Yeah I get it; our story already had the makings of a great country music song.

For those who’ve never done the distance, I’ll get straight to the point: it can be brutal.  Sure, modern technology such as email, Skype, and FaceTime have made communication easier, but in our case, the idea of starting our relationship from 2000 miles apart, while navigating the ups and downs of the entertainment industry seemed virtually impossible, if not irresponsible.  Besides, I assumed she was probably more interested in all of those Hollywood surfer/producer types–how could a cowboy boots-wearing, singer/songwriter food guy ever capture her heart?

Ok, enough with the self-doubt talk.

Sometimes, you have to man up.  After a month or so of casually communicating, it seemed that the distance and detached lives we were leading were putting out our initial spark.  So, I called an audible.  I can still remember her reaction when I told her–3 days ahead of time–that I’d just booked a flight to come visit her in California.  Shocked, excited, nervous?  Hmm, I’d say it was a mixture of all three.  Either way, it was a bold move.  Or as Will Hunting best said it, I had to go see about a girl.

What ensued was a weekend that changed both our lives.  I did my best to win her over via my Southern gentleman charm, along with a few fancy dinners, walks on the beach, and all of that other stuff of fairy tale romance.  But, what pleased her most was a simple afternoon picnic I had planned toward the end of our weekend.  You see, I even went as far as to pack a foldable cooler, blanket, and corkscrew with my luggage to ensure my plans went off without a hitch.  That might seem a little overboard, but it’s all about making the effort, fellas.  By the end of the weekend, we knew that we were both committed to pursuing a serious relationship–regardless of the distance.

The takeaway? After an incredible year of dating, racking up the miles via planes, trains, and automobile, I found it time once again to man up.  This past January, I boarded yet another plane to take me back out to California.  But this trip was different.  Relishing our time together, over a picnic on that same beach from before, I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me.

As it turns out, risks are worth taking — she said yes.

In other words, pursue the one with everything you have, and don’t be afraid to enjoy a picnic or two along the way.



Guidelines, Tips, and Meal Planning for Picnics

First and foremost, plan ahead.  The whole point of enjoying a picnic is to take advantage of the great outdoors, so choose a beautiful spot on a day when the weather is agreeable.

Pack accordingly.  The following items/suggestions will help ensure that you are properly prepared.  To be fair, I’ve made this list rather thorough.  Pack according to your needs, companions, and environment. Forgetting something can really put a kink in your plans, so a good idea is to make a checklist of what you want to bring, and then cross off each item as you place it into your basket.

Picnic Packing List

–A comfortable blanket or ground covering to sit on.  If you are worried about ruining your favorite quilt or blanket, bring along a vinyl tablecloth to serve as an under layer.

–A cooler for items that need to be kept cold.  Use plenty of ice packs to keep everything chilled.  You can also freeze bottled water, lemonade, or fruit juice to double as ice packs and save space–just be sure you have the time to let them thaw prior to serving.  Last but not least, don’t put the cooler in your trunk during transport, as it’s the hottest part of the car.

–A basket or large bag to carry everything else. You don’t necessarily need to get an old fashioned wicker basket, but try to use something more charming than a bunch of grocery bags.

–Plastic storage containers and plastic storage bags.  Both of these items prevent things from spilling, while also keeping food separated and fresh. 

  • Note: Don’t put bread items (like the French baguette I suggest below) in a 100% sealed plastic container or plastic wrap. Instead use parchment paper, butchers paper, etc., to keep the bread from becoming soggy.

–Plates, forks, knives, napkins, cups and/or glassware, and a cutting board.  I prefer using the real stuff over plastic or paper.  It makes the picnic feel more special, and it saves the environment.

  • Note: I wrap my glassware in cloth napkins, and usually stack my plates and other fragile items within my blanket.  This allows the napkins and blankets to perform double duty, without taking up too much space.  Also, there are many manufacturers on the market that sell picnic baskets that come with real glassware and server-ware and are specially designed to secure and protect it. These products can tend to be a bit pricey for those that rarely picnic, but they do add a touch of convenience for those who plan on dining outside on a regular basis.

–Sunscreen and bug spray.

–Books, magazines, or other literature. For lazy reading during breaks in the conversation.

–A small stereo or your cell phone to stream/play background music.

–Frisbee, ball and glove, or board games for the competitive types.

–A sharp knife for cutting, a bottle opener for soda/beer bottles, and a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine. You’ll be kicking yourself if you forget these!

–Trash bags and moist towelettes for cleanup.

–Small first aid kit. Overboard, perhaps–prepared, yes.

Food & Drink

Some general guidelines:

Choosing your food. Serve finger-friendly, easy-to-prepare foods, such as sandwiches, wraps, cut fruit, hard-boiled eggs, chicken wings, tear-able bread, carrot and celery sticks, crackers, chips, cookies, and so on.

  • Substitute pesto for mayonnaise. Foods with mayonnaise must be kept cold, and can go bad when left out for too long in the heat.  Instead, I advocate picking up a jar of pesto from your grocer, or making it at home.  It can be used as a condiment, or as a binder in potato/pasta salads.  Besides that–it’s delicious.
  • If serving a salad, wait to dress the greens until ready to serve.  This will prevent things from becoming soggy.

Choosing a wine. Rosé wines are a popular choice for picnics.  Served slightly chilled, these wines can act as a refreshing go-between either a red or a white.  I prefer those that are less sweet.  Otherwise, a crisp, chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay can be nice on a hot day, or a lighter Pinot Noir will also suffice for those who are more inclined to drink reds.

  • Bottled water, fruit juices, craft sodas, and beer make good beverage choices too.  Just keep in mind that these tend to be the heaviest items, so pack accordingly.

Choosing a cheese. If you’ll be picnicking on a hot day, it’s best to choose a firm, low-moisture cheese since soft cheeses can get gooey. Aged Gouda, Asiago, Manchego, or Pecorino (Fiore) Sardo are good options.

Menu suggestions:

Cheese Board

I’m a big advocate of keeping things simple.  For that reason, I always like throwing together a simple cheese board.  An assortment of cheese, bread, cured meats, and fruit makes the perfect lunch, while requiring little to no preparation.

Sharp White Cheddar Cheese, sliced
Aged Blue Cheese
Sopressatta, sliced paper thin
Toasted French Bread Slices
Kiwi, sliced

Prepare and assemble ingredients onto a large cutting board.  Serve.

Turkey Pesto Submarine Sandwich

You can also never go wrong with packing delicious sandwiches for your picnic. This is one of my favorites.

1 French Baguette
4 oz. Prepared Pesto
½ lb Sliced Turkey
1 Vine Ripe Tomato, sliced
¼ Red Onion, sliced thin
1 Handful Arugula or shredded lettuce

Slice baguette lengthwise, and smear pesto on both cut sides of bread.  Pile the remaining ingredients onto the sandwich and top off with remaining half of bread.  If serving in small portions, insert toothpicks vertically into the sandwich, every 2 – 3 inches.  Using a knife, slice into individual serving portions.  Serve.

Lastly, have fun!  Share with us your comments and tips for pulling off the perfect picnic!


{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark April 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I’ve got to thank you Matt, the new lady friend recommended a picnic date just yesterday and I’ve been wondering, leave it to the AOM to save me yet again!

2 bfg67 April 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Good tips! I also spent my engagement and actually the start o my marriage long distance- I was in England, and it was my wife who was in The South- 1000s of miles away!
A subscription to Skype so I could call phones in America, and slightly more old school snail mail letters were the key.

3 Evan April 30, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I can vouch for that. My now-wife and I had a picnic for our first date and we were on a picnic when i proposed.

4 sugapablo April 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm

FYI: Store bought mayo can last a lot longer than you think at room temperature. If you pack it that morning, you could eat it quite safely before dark. Fret not! :)

5 Turion April 30, 2012 at 8:35 pm

As someone who is now happily married after an initial longish transatlantic relationship, good luck with the lady. Our first picnic was more haphazard than yours.

6 Bracing April 30, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Congratulations! I prefer the beach picnic myself, though they can get a little messy. If you’re lucky, you can find a shady spot in the grass with a view of the water.

7 Sean April 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm

In all honesty, my wife loves when we stop at our favorite gyro shop for a couple gyros to-go (or stop for a large pizza) and head to the top of the hill, by the Art Museum, in Forest Park (where they held the St. Louis World’s Fair… think Central Park, except in St. Louis) and sit out on a blanket and watch the world go by. Sometimes we’ll change it up and try to find a new spot… on top of the hill, by the pond, under the trees, by the golf course… No muss, no fuss… no cheeseboards necessary… just some take-out and go. We always keep a blanket packed in the back of her SUV for just such occasions. Takes “dinner out” to a whole new level.

8 Lorii Abela May 1, 2012 at 2:49 am

I do agree that going to picnics can really lead to a long-lasting relationship. By the way, great tips!.

9 JC May 1, 2012 at 3:37 am

Excellent post. What I love about the picnic date is that it’s very *ahem* cost-effective. Not to imply cheapness but I remember the ridicule I suffered at the hands of my buddy who could take his dates out on the typical dinner-n-movie combo using money he got from his well-to-do parents. I, on the other hand, could not afford these dates, and on one occasion I only had about ten dollars, which went to gas. But I packed some fruit juice, spaghetti, and garlic bread in a very old fashioned tin bucket, and it was one of the best dates ever. Another suggestion that really saved me was this: Gentlemen, learn a few chords on the guitar! Makes for a perfect moment for your lady. In fact, AOM should have an article on guitar basics, if there isn’t one already. But other than that, once again, I laud this article and the author thereof.

10 Bertel May 1, 2012 at 8:32 am

Might I recommend homemade sushi it’s very easy to transport and eat, let alone quite delicios. I once took a girl out for sushi in the kings garden of Copenhagen and although the relationship didn’t last for very long she did mention that it was an experience she would remember when the dark winter of Denmark would come.

11 mike May 1, 2012 at 8:51 am

I think the best way to have a perfect picnic date would be to include the lady from the first picture in the article. Gee-whiz! Some of those old gals were fine looking in their day!

12 Bryan May 1, 2012 at 12:00 pm


Never fear, Art of Manliness has it covered yet again:

13 Matt Mc May 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Congratulations! It’s great to hear that everything worked out for you, warms my heart. This article is exactly what I needed incidentally, my girlfriend loves picnics and I’ve been hoping to surprise with a great one!

14 Andrew B. May 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm

This site has such a wealth of knowledge. I hope aom is just a click away for the rest of my life.

15 Bohdi May 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm

something that goes hand in hand with picnics is something ive gotten into called geocaching.
its a worldwide GPS scavenger hunt, anyone with a gps or iphone can do it. you find small items that people hide in cool areas ( parks,beaches, vistas). most of the time we go picnic in the area where we find the geocache and its a great thing for a first date 100th date or something for the kids

16 Jen May 1, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Great article :) My husband took me on a surprise picnic back when we were dating and I still remember almost every detail. He picked me up from work one day and drove to a local plantation/botanical garden. When we got to a shady area with a great view and a little bench, he pulled out a cooler with some sandwiches and beer, followed by individually wrapped plates with chocolate cheesecake! After we ate we were able to walk around and view all the flowers etc that were in bloom. It was so spontaneous and awesome that I will always remember it.

17 jeff May 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Tide stain pen. Only costs a couple bucks, stores easily. Completely worth it once it becomes necessary, particularly if it’s her clothes that get stained.

18 Gill Avila May 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm

No one’s addressed the question of bathroom breaks. What do we–men and women–do when that situation arises?

19 Pete May 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Best picnic ever: the brunch picnic. I took my wife to a local vineyard, packed fruits, cheeses, soppresata, a large baguette, and a thermos of coffee. After brunch we enjoyed a wine tasting at the winery. Perfect Saturday!

20 Nethwen May 7, 2012 at 7:29 am


Choose a place that suits her sensibilities. Me, I have no problem with a tree or a pit toilet. Others are very picky. Many parks offer some kind of facilities. Or choose a location with a place to stop on your way in/out of the picnic area.

My question is: How do you transport the dirty plates/utensils if you bring them wrapped in a blanket? Surely all the wet wipes you use cleaning them counter-acts the environmental friendliness of using real dishes? Do you wrap all used dishes in a trash bag, then wrap it with the blanket?

Also, from four years of traveling and practically living out of my car: if you cover what you are trying to keep cool, it will stay cool longer. Even in 90-degree heat with my car sitting in full sun, I could keep chocolate inside my car if I buried it under all the other things in my backseat. It got soft, but not melted. Throw a heavy blanket over your cooler.

Another thing: I prefer “gooey” cheese. The flavor is better. (I’m one of those who doesn’t put Brie in the fridge if I’m going to eat it that day.)

21 Jack May 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm

I’m taking my lady-friend out this weekend for a surprise picnic. I should stop being surprised at the usefulness of AoM but I was blown away when I found this article. Thanks!

22 James May 11, 2012 at 12:14 am

My first date with my wife of now 23 years was a picnic.

As a starving college student I didn’t have the money to take her to dinner but a bottle of wine, loaf of french bread and a couple cheeses went a long way on a small budget.

I took her to my favorite park overlooking the San Francisco bay and we talked for hours in the early evening. It was magical – and fortunately for me, effective. :)

23 Joe T May 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Thank you so much AOM. I used all of your tips on How To Pull Off The Perfect Picnic and success! My wife and I had an amazing time on our monthly date. We just added a small canoeing venture to go along with the perfect picnic. Viola! Happy Wife Happy Life!

24 Wayne June 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm

wow… I have taken the intro to this article as a good omen. I just met an incredible girl last week and we’ve been out 3 times, and every night was magical and the conversations even discussed marriage… something that did not exist in my vocabulary 2 weeks ago.

Problem is, she too is leaving for other end of the country a week from now and I’m away for 3 days for business.

Can’t wait to take her out on a picnic when I’m back. Will update you guys on what happens, wish me luck!


25 kevin July 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm

this is great info! thanks alot!

26 Stargazer July 13, 2013 at 9:16 am

I find it amusing that a description of a “picnic” needs to be explained. LOL!

27 alex July 25, 2013 at 12:56 am

Phenomenal article, this website is great man. Ive been talking to this girl for about 2 weeks now and we hung out a few times. She is gorgeous.. I know she’s into me because lets face it, you know whether a girl is into you or not. She’s got no idea that I’m planning a picnic for her in 5 days.. And its safe to say I have never done this in my life and I have been with plenty of girls.. That’s big for me. Wish me luck fellas I wish all you the best of luck also

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