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How to Enjoy the Perfect Picnic in New York City

By Lindsay Armstrong | August 8, 2014 7:35am | Updated on August 8, 2014 10:31pm
 Foolproof your picnic with these tips. Plus, some of our favorite places to spread out a blanket.
How to Picnic Like a Pro
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NEW YORK CITY — This summer is delivering perfect picnic weather. Light on humidity and intense heat, it's been ideal for al fresco dining and, with luck, the trend will continue.

“The idea of a picnic is to stop and take a moment for yourself or with your family and friends,” said Wendy Weston, owner of the Perfect Picnic, a planning and delivery service for eating outdoors. “Even when we’re at home, our phones are ringing, our computers are on. A picnic is about taking time out to really enjoy food with the people that you love.”

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Here are our tips for planning a foolproof picnic:

1. Scout Your Location
Like New York City real estate, picnics are all about location, location, location. We’ve recommended a few of our favorite spots in the slideshow and in the map below.

Whichever space you choose, it’s a good idea to do some research before you go. Think about your needs. Are you planning to barbecue? Do you need to be near a playground or recreation space for kids? How long are you willing to walk to reach a restroom? The NYC Parks Department website will give you a sense of the amenities available at your chosen spot.

2. Choose Foods That Hold Up Well

Not all dishes are made to survive a day of sitting out in the park. Plan your menu accordingly.

Avoid anything that must be kept at a certain temperature for health reasons. If you must have your potato salad, whip up a version like this, made with olive oil instead of mayonnaise.  

Wesson recommends swapping salads, which tend to get soggy and limp, with pickled vegetables.

If you’re set on having salad, go with kale as your green. The substantial leaves soak up dressing without wilting. Grain or bean-based salads are also a good option because the flavors develop over time.

If you pack sandwiches, bring condiments with you rather than adding them at home. Your bread will stay fresh longer.

Wesson also advises leaving the chopped fruit at home. Bring whole fruit instead.

“When you transport sliced fruit, it’s always a mess by the time you get to the park,” she said. “Plus, fruit actually stays colder when it’s whole.” 

3. Pack Like a Pro
Getting to a picnic spot in New York can involve a lengthy trip on public transportation or, at the very least, a long walk. Lighten your load by packing as many finger foods as possible. If you plan a menu of veggies and dip, sandwiches and cookies, you can avoid lugging around utensils and plates and get rid of your picnic basket.

“As a New Yorker, you want to be nimble and be able to go from a picnic to the movies or out for a cocktail, which is tough if you’re carrying a basket,” Wesson said.

For Perfect Picnic, Wesson packs everything into reusable totes and she recommends you do the same.

“Get a good tote and move on with you life," she said.

Use a painter’s drop cloth to use as a blanket or base layer, Wesson says. They are water resistant, large and cheap. You can find them at any home improvement store. If you’re feeling creative, decorate it to create a one-of-a-kind picnic look.

Make a list of easy to forget necessities like a corkscrew or bottle opener, bug spray, sunscreen and paper towels. This way you won’t walk out of your house without them.

4. Outsource
For an even more relaxing picnic experience, let someone else make the food.

Swing by your local deli for sandwiches and salads or choose a location that offers great onsite food vendors.

Perfect Picnic will pack a picnic for you and deliver it anywhere in Manhattan. You can also pick up your meal at its Lower East Side storefront or its stand at 72nd and Central Park West. Options range from the $14 American Picnic to the $175 Family of Four Picnic.

For a truly special outing, you can book a butler service picnics, which comes with Prosecco and set up and clean up service. These picnics start at $325 and can go as high as $5,000 for a custom-designed picnic, depending on what the customer wants.

"It's New York," Wesson said. "We can make just about anything happen."