Tips for hosting a picnic

May 10, 2012 at 8:16 p.m. ET

Picnic season is here. The sun is shining, and there’s no better place to be than outdoors enjoying the long summer days and warm weather. So let's move the party outside, fire up the grill and have a picnic!

Potato salad

A picnic can be as simple as putting a blanket down in the backyard and enjoying your sandwich alfresco, but a picnic can also be a great way to entertain. Not only does bringing the party outside give you more room to spread out, it also means less cleanup and no worrying over spills. Keep these tips in mind to help you host the best picnic of the year.

Food choices

Hot dogs and hamburgers are picnic essentials. They’re easy to throw on the grill and can be cooked in mass quantities. Instead of a standard burger, amp up your picnic fare with a burger that is huge on flavor and you'll have a hit with both kids and adults.

Try grilling these gourmet hamburgers for a twist on a classic >>

When it comes to side dishes, they can be a little trickier. Deli salads are the obvious choice to pair with barbecue, but mayonnaise shouldn’t be left out in the sun for any length of time. When planning your picnic menu, choose options that won’t spoil as quickly, like mayonnaise-free potato and pasta salad, green salad and fruit salad.

Whip up a tasty mayo-free side dish to eat with those juicy burgers.

Potato salad with herb vinaigrette


  • 1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into large cubes
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra for boiling potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped leeks
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 1/4 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives

Find the directions here >>

Italian-style pasta salad


  • 12 ounces uncooked orecchiette pasta
  • 6 ounces canned tuna
  • 6 ounces provolone cheese, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 3/4 cup roasted red pepper, sliced
  • 6 ounces black pitted olives, sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Find the directions here >>


White wine sangria

It wouldn’t be a party without cocktails! A big cooler full of cold drinks is a must for any picnic, but make it easier on yourself and choose one signature drink instead of supplying 10 different options. Rather than fighting a losing battle with melting ice, freeze a component of the cocktail itself. If the recipe contains citrus slices, berries, or other fruit, freeze those to use as ice. The drink will stay cold but won’t get watered down. Fill a large beverage jug with a spigot for easy dispensing (some are even insulated).

Mix a big batch of sangria for a refreshing summery cocktail.

White wine sangria with pear


  • 1 bottle dry white wine
  • 1-1/4 cups pear juice
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 cup chopped canned pears
  • 1 cup chopped canned peaches
  • 8 orange slices, halved

Find the directions here >>


Don’t forget some of these little details that will make your picnic stand out:

  • A simple white tablecloth goes a long way in making an outdoor space feel more elegant, as do cloth napkins (although it does mean a little extra laundry).
  • Fill a few vases with wildflowers or greenery to continue the outdoor theme onto the table.
  • Use wine glass tags that guests can write their names on to keep drinks from getting misplaced.
  • Create an energetic playlist and bring out a portable sound system to keep the good vibes going.
  • If your space is short on shade, put up a few large umbrellas to provide some relief from the sun and have sunscreen on hand for guests.
  • An evening picnic might require bug repellent or bug repellent candles to keep guests comfortable.

Check out these summer picnic essentials >>

More on picnics

Fun picnic ideas for family days out
Perfect picnic recipes and picnic packing tips
Picnic recipes and wine pairings