As the summer holidays stretch out ahead, many of us will be making plans for plenty of
outdoor activities: walks, trips to the seaside, and – of course – picnics. This great
British pastime derives its name from the French pique-nique (piquer, to pick or peck,
and nique, a thing of little import). Like many British leisure activities, it is highly
dependent on reasonable weather, which of course is not always guaranteed and is
inevitably the subject of much debate and foreboding beforehand – suffice to say,
contingency plans are essential, as nobody relishes the thought of a picnic in pouring
For many of us, especially children, a picnic is a delightful prospect. We should,
however, be aware that there is a substantial contingent of picnic-deniers who find the
whole prospect purgatorial. This is mainly to do with comfort: unlike al fresco eating in
the garden, when a dining room is effectively created in the open air, picnics are much
more improvisational affairs, involving sitting on the ground, balancing plates on laps
and so on. But there are certainly ways in which the picnic-wary can be accommodated:
lightweight folding deckchairs will solve seating anxiety and well-chosen finger food that
can be eaten with the minimum of fuss and no cutlery will ensure that the absence of a
table is not a deterrent.
If you find yourself hosting, or attending, a picnic this summer, it is guaranteed to go
with a swing if you observe the following etiquette:
• Scope out the location of your picnic beforehand and ensure that there is both sunlight
and dappled shade, as well as even ground and shelter from the wind. In any case it is
wise to bring extra supplies of sun cream and sun hats.
• If you would like your guests to bring contributions to the feast, make that clear; if you
are happy to organise all the catering, say so beforehand. Because picnics are often
quite arranged on the spur of the moment (mainly because they’re so weather-
dependent), there is often some confusion about the expectations of the host and the
guests, so it is best to sort this out beforehand.
• If your picnic is a free-for-all and guests are bringing home-made contributions, make
sure that you taste their food and compliment them on the efforts they have made.
• Think carefully about seating. At the very least you will need to bring picnic blankets
that can be placed on the ground; you might also need to consider cushions and folding
• While you might not be the proud possessor of a picnic hamper and matching crockery,
it might well be a good idea to invest in some inexpensive bamboo plates, cups and
cutlery and some sturdy stainless-steel beakers, which can be used for hot and cold
drinks. All these items are reusable and eco-friendly and will reduce waste substantially.
• Think about food that is easy to eat: sandwiches, sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, pork pies
are all traditional, and extremely practical, picnic choices. If you want a healthier option,
cutting up batons of celery, carrot and cucumber and serving them with dips is a
practical alternative to salads, which are much more difficult to eat.
• Be very aware of other people nearby, especially if you are using a portable barbecue,
which can be smoky and will disgorge overwhelming odours.
• If you’ve got children with you, make sure you come equipped with balls, bats, racquets
etc, and ensure that they play well away from the seating area. Keep an eye on them
throughout proceedings and make sure they’re not getting too noisy or straying into
other people’s territory.
• If you’re going to a picnic, dress practically. Remember, you probably are going to end
up sitting on the ground at some point, so short tight skirts are impractical, whereas long
flowing skirts or trousers are much more comfortable. The ground may well be uneven,
so picnics are not really the ideal time to showcase your heels or platform soles.
• If you are sitting on a pristine picnic blanket, it may be sensible to remove your shoes.
Tuck your feet well away and don’t point them toward the food or other guests.
• If you’re bringing your dog to the feast, keep it on a lead while you’re eating. If your dog
is over-excitable and likely to lunge at the sausage rolls and topple over the prosecco,
then you might have to think again: toys and treats might have to be deployed to ensure
that your pet is distracted. Remember, you’re responsible for your dog, so make sure
you bring adequate supplies of water. Keep an eye on your dog throughout proceedings
to ensure that he’s not disturbing other guests or scaring children and be particularly
vigilant when other dog owners are in the area.
• Leave no trace. Absolutely everything that you have brought to the picnic site must be
packed away, disposed of or taken home for disposal. You will need to come well-
supplied with rubbish bags, and it is your responsibility to give the site a careful
appraisal once everything has been packed away and to ensure that there are no errant
fragments of rubbish left behind.
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