How to Plan a Picnic

Hosting a picnic or a party in the park can be a neat way to get friends together. You can celebrate a birthday, an engagement, or even a happy hour.

It is free to use the park. Everyone can mingle outside and people get to enjoy nature! The location is also often convenient for a party.

But be careful: there are some easy mistakes you can avoid when planning a picnic. I’ll show you what to do (and what not to do!) along the way.

Why you should listen to me: Hi! I’m Nick Gray. I’ve hosted dozens of picnics for my friends over the years. I’ve also planned hundreds of cocktail parties to bring people together. For this article, I attended a picnic that a new friend was hosting. I helped him with some tips and tricks to make it a success.

Picnic Planning Tips

These are some things that I suggested to my new friend Sydney to do to plan a better picnic for his friends:

  • Send more reminder messages
  • Use name tags
  • Do a round of icebreakers
  • Be crystal clear in specifying where the picnic would be located
  • Buy a balloon to tie up and show people the location

I will go into detail about each of these items below.

Select a Picnic Location

Choose a central spot that is easy for people to access

Visit the area beforehand and imagine approaching as if you are one of your potential guests.

Is the picnic area easy to find? Is there easy parking or public transportation? Is the pathway to your meeting spot clear?

Finally, consider seating options. Personally, I like to have a mix of sun and shade.

Decide on a Date and Time

Picnics generally happen on the weekends or holidays. I’ve hosted most of my picnics on Saturday and Sundays.

For the time of day, and based on my experience, I’ve found that 2PM is the best start time for a picnic.

Nick’s note: Consider setting both a start and an end time for your picnic. Setting an end time will encourage guests to show up on time! I suggest a length of 2 or 3 hours.

How to Invite People

Now that you’ve picked a location, a date, and a time, you’re ready to invite people to your picnic.

It is very important to give your friends as much information as possible about your picnic. I like to tell people the exact date, time, and location. I also like to use a double opt-in invitation.

I’ll show you how my new friend Sydney invited people to his picnic recently. But first, allow me to introduce Sydney.

Meet Sydney, the New Picnic Planner

This is Sydney Liu. He lives in California.

Sydney and Nick at the picnic party
Me and Sydney in Sheep Meadow of Central Park on the day of his picnic.

Sydney runs a software company called Commaful. He’s very active on the internet and has a lot of friends.

During Sydney’s visit to New York City, he thought: “What if I hosted a picnic for all my random friends?”

So he texted a ton of people, set up a page to collect his RSVPs, and then he waited for the event to start.

Until he met me! And read my book about party planning.

Tips and Tricks to Plan a Picnic

Here are key pieces of advice that Sydney would give to someone hosting their first picnic meetup or picnic party:

  • Definitely pick a spot ahead of time. Don’t try to “figure it out at the park”.
  • Attach a picture of the map ahead of time with the spot you plan to meet in circled. It makes your job as the host 100x easier!
  • Use a shiny balloon and put it somewhere in the sun. The sun will reflect off of it making it significantly easier for people to find the spot in an otherwise huge park
  • Name tags are still useful, even in a picnic! Initially I was averse to the idea of nametags and thought it might be cringy for a picnic. Boy was I wrong! Everybody used the nametags and they became super helpful. It gave me an easy excuse to welcome new people coming in and everybody could easily identify who was in the picnic and say hello!
  • We did 1 quick icebreaker and it was super effective! I had a number of people who came up to me later and said “That girl who does X is super cool!” or “That guy who has this startup was really interesting, I’m going to talk to him next!”
  • In our post-event text message, I offered to introduce folks who didn’t get a chance to exchange contact info at the park itself. Several people took me up on it and it was so awesome to see friends get connected with each other!
  • As a lazy person visiting a big city like New York, Instacart was my friend. I Instacarted stuff well ahead of time. No carrying heavy boxes and certainly no last minute rushing! Note that stores often run out of stuff, so give Instacart alternatives and plenty of lead time to prepare for potential issues.
  • For picnics, people often show up later. We didn’t start picking up steam until 30 minutes in. Some people showed up 1-2 hours late. We also stayed for 3.5+ hours before we wrapped up. Most people stayed until the end! Be prepared for that!
  • We didn’t have that many blankets, so we used shower curtains ($1.25 each at the dollar store!) to put food and drinks on. They worked reasonably well as a quick, cheap hack… but most people ended up standing for the entire time.

Sydney’s Picnic Invitations

Here’s how Sydney invited his friends to his picnic. He started by creating a page to collect RSVPs. You can see my list of suggested free party platform websites here.

It is important to collect RSVPs to your picnic. I talk about why collecting RSVPs is important in Chapter 7 of my book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party.

After creating that page, Sydney sent out the following text message to his friends.

Hey!! Visiting NY and would love to see ya! Hosting a little thing if you’re around next weekend: [LINK TO RSVP]

Here’s what that looked liked as a text message:

Screenshot of Sydney's message inviting his guests.

His event invitation then looked like this:

Screenshot of Sydney's Partiful page

A Note About Event Platforms

Here’s what Sydney had to say about using Partiful for his picnic in Central Park:

All in all, I very much enjoyed using Partiful. My goal was to use something lightweight, easy to set up, that would take minutes to put together. It served that goal well.

These are the things that Sydney liked about Partiful:

  • Text messages are something that everybody checks. They have very high deliverability, so everybody got the reminders and would see it quickly, especially folks who have a lot of emails.
  • People liked the design of my Partiful invitation – I got compliments about it!
  • Super easy to set up, took me only a few minutes.

These are the things that he didn’t like:

  • Text messages had very limited character counts, so I could not send much content in a reminder message.
  • People would reply to the text messages from Partiful, but the texts didn’t come back to me. They get lost in the SMS void.

Nick’s note: I suggest you use a platform like Mixily which allows you to collect RSVPs and then email your guests. I do not suggest using a platform like Partiful because it only allows you to send text messages. But you could use Partiful if you want! As you can see, Sydney used Partiful and his picnic still turned out fine. Read more of my thoughts on platforms.

Sharing the Location

Be sure to share the exact location that you plan to gather with your friends! This is especially important when you’re hosting a picnic.

At large parks like Central Park in New York City, there could be hundreds or even thousands of other people. It might be difficult for your guests to find the spot that you and your group are in.

One way to share the location is to take a screenshot on Google Maps and then make some markings on it where you will meet. This is what I’ve done for my picnics:

Picture of the Picnic Location

Find a photo of the park area online. Add arrows where you will meet.

This is a graphic that I have sent for one of my picnics.

Picture of the Google Maps Location

You might prefer to simply take a screenshot of the picnic location on Google Maps. Here’s one that I have sent my friends:

Screenshot from Google Maps
Screenshot from Google Maps,

Now, because I’m OCD and hyper-specific, I’ve also sometimes annotated my images. You don’t have to do this! But I’m just showing you how I’ve been extremely specific in giving my friends information for a very busy park, like Central Park, so that everyone can find my picnic.

You don’t have to add this many details! LOL

Drinks and Snacks

As the host of the picnic, you might be wondering which drinks and snacks you should provide.

For a warm weather picnic, I suggest that you bring finger fruits. Those are fruits which you can eat with your hands. For example: blueberries, watermelon slices, sliced apples, or other easy fruits. Fruit is a light snack which is refreshing.

Salty snacks are also good and easy. I like salted cocktail nuts, potato chips, or tortilla chips.

For drinks, you should definitely bring some water. I also like to bring white wine or rose (if the local laws allow!) as well as some seltzer and/or diet soda.

Here’s what Sydney said about the drinks and snacks that he brought:

“The wine, water, and Diet Coke were very popular. Everything we brought was drank! Mountain Dew (not diet) wasn’t touched at all. I should have brought diet or just skipped that one. For food, Doritos chips were the most popular snack, but people only ate a little bit of the snacks. We gave away the rest of the snacks in the park after the picnic was over.”

Standing versus Sitting

Standing is better for meeting new people because you can easily move around. Most people at Sydney’s picnic were standing. They enjoyed talking to people!

Careful: Sitting down is kryptonite to meeting new people. It makes it hard to approach others and guests get “locked in” on conversations.

I’m always surprised at a picnic how many people stand versus people who choose to sit. If you want people to sit, you will need to bring blankets or sheets (or even towels) for people to sit on.

Nick taking a selfie while guests circled up for the icebreakers at the picnic party
The picnic group is standing and circled up to do a round of icebreakers in Central Park.

Group Photo

Be sure to get a group photo during your picnic! You want to get a group photo at your picnic for the following reasons:

  1. It will be a nice memory to reflect on afterwards.
  2. Your friends might share it on their social media!
  3. You’ll have a nice photo for the next picnic or party you host.

See my video and pro-tips on getting a good group photo here.

Here’s Sydney’s group photo and a few different group photos that he took at his picnic:

Group photo at the picnic party
With apologies for the look on my face (yellow hat on far right!)
Another group photo at the picnic party.
I think that I took this picture! Group photos are hard. But you should still do it.

Conclusion

Bringing friends together to plan a picnic is a special skill. But anyone can learn how to do it!

When you add a little bit of structure to your picnic, like name tags and a round of icebreakers, it can help others make new friends. Then you will be seen as the connector who brings people together.

Remember to do these things to have a great picnic:

  1. Pick a convenient location in the park.
  2. Create a page to collect RSVPs. Include relevant location information (where your picnic will be!) on this page.
  3. Send at least one reminder message before the day of your picnic.
  4. Use name tags! Buy name tags and a marker beforehand.
  5. Clean up afterwards to leave the public space nicer than you found it.

Are you planning to host a picnic for your friends? Did we leave anything out of this list? Send me an email and I’ll include your notes here in this article.

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About the author

Howdy! I'm Nick Gray. Most people know me as the Founder of Museum Hack. I wrote a book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party, about making new friends and building big relationships through small gatherings.

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