We Brits are known for defying the odds by dining outside come rain or shine. We've built up years of resilience to washout days, sheltering under umbrellas to barbecue a feast or camping with our mates despite a downpour, which, come 2020's global pandemic, has proven to be rather handy. With bars and restaurants closed, and most social activities cancelled during summer at the height of the coronavirus crisis, we had no option but to think outside the box. How could we see our friends and family in a safe and socially distanced manner? A picnic, of course.
Traditionally, British picnics have been synonymous with tartan blankets, wicker baskets and sausage rolls. There's a passage in The Wind in the Willows which describes it perfectly, in which Rat opens a bulging hamper to reveal "cold chicken [...] cold tongue, cold ham, cold beef, pickled gherkins, salad, French rolls, cress sandwiches, potted meat, ginger beer, lemonade, soda water." Over the years, however, we've found ourselves taking a more modern approach: M&S gin and tonic tinnies, a Boots meal deal, a punnet of strawberries and a jug of Pimm's (if you're lucky).
But this summer transformed picnics into sophisticated pique-niques. For once we were blessed with scorching 35 degree heat and for those of us without a garden, heading to the nearest beauty spot has helped us salvage a moment of joy from this tragic year. Scrolling through social media feeds proves that traditional picnics are very much in. Take 24-year-old blogger Yasmin Chelsea from London, who elevated her weekend picnic from the local park to Hitchin's lavender fields, a popular beauty spot. Or entrepreneur Mariam Jimoh, from London, who put us all to shame with her glamorous spread of cheeses, charcuterie and a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
A picnic doesn't have to be a spenny affair, of course, but it's clear that if you want to Instagram it, it's worth making it into a fine art, like OG picnicker Paula Sutton of Hillhouse Vintage. Ahead, we spoke to some of the young women who leaned hard into picnicking during lockdown and asked how to salvage the rest of our summer by taking a leaf out of their pique-nique book,
"I think that the secret to planning the perfect picnic always starts with the theme. Of course that can be dictated by the reason that you are having the picnic – birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. – but let’s imagine that you are wanting to organise a stylish picnic simply to celebrate the joy of a beautiful summer's day. I would start with a colour scheme. This would involve choosing my linens, china and glassware to complement each other. There is a considered art to even the most (seemingly) casual and mismatched of vintage place settings! Naturally food is an important feature but really, as long as it’s tasty, you can have the most modest sandwiches and they can be styled to look like a feast – which puts everyone in a good mood!
"If you’re into vintage china, choose some prettily mismatched plates. It may sound cumbersome and heavy to carry but spread the load with your friends or family, you’ll be happy that you did. Picnic fare always tastes better on real china, and with vintage china you don’t have to be too precious about it.
"Picnics have been the perfect alternative during lockdown because they can be adjusted to suit any outdoor space and to suit any size of crowd. It doesn’t matter how large or small your outdoor area is, it can hopefully accommodate a small blanket, or perhaps a mini foldaway table, a couple of cushions and a basket full of goodies. Balconies can be just as lovely to enjoy picnics on too, so hopefully the potential for a picnic is accessible for everyone, whether on your own or with your lockdown companions. That’s the beauty of them, their adjustability."
"I have always loved a picnic as my parents used to take us on lots but I think my love for them heightened as a result of lockdown and the fact that you could enjoy food and drinks with your friends while still being socially distanced and also sit in the sun! They are also extremely aesthetic and I am a sucker for pretty things.
"Picnics allow you to spend time with friends/loved ones in a way that everyone feels comfortable, especially as not all restaurants have the option to dine al fresco. It's actually been a great way to enjoy different outdoor spaces. I have been able to picnic in Stamford, Clapham Common, London Fields and Hitchin lavender fields and I am desperate to picnic by Little Venice on the canal or on a tennis court! I think as a result of food delivery either via Deliveroo or local restaurant collections being so readily available, having a picnic is now easier than ever as the food will come to you. There are also restaurants who are doing picnic-specific hampers which I think is genius as picnics are definitely the way forward this summer, which is helped by the glorious weather we have had/are having."
"I've always gone on picnics since I was at school and since I'm from an area literally named after a heath, we always sat there on sunny days and weekends. It became very easy to enjoy. They are great because you can spend as long as you like, do as much as you like, with as many people as you like and get a tan while you're doing it. Plus the ever-flowing champagne and prosecco helps. It's nice to just find a way you can practise some level of social distancing while still socialising with your friends. I'm always restaurant hopping so this is a great alternative.
"I love bringing a large thick blanket, loads of champagne, some speakers and ready-prepared food. I always use Yours Bakefully picnic boxes because preparing food and keeping it cool is long. But also popping to your local supermarket to pick things up makes things easy to do. Since all my spring and summer holidays have been cancelled due to COVID-19, I've been dressing like I'm in the French Riviera or relaxing by the sea in Cape Town to make up for it."
"My secret to planning the perfect picnic is the details. It should be comfortable and atmospheric. I like to think of all small (and often overlooked) details such as having a couple of cushions so it's more comfortable, locating the nearest bathroom and creating a playlist with songs to enjoy in the background.
"Picnics have been a great alternative this summer because it changes your environment once in a while. Let's be real, it does get boring staying at home all the time. A change of scenery, especially outdoors, is not only healthy but it's a lot of fun. It's also been safer as the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 is lower than if we strolled around the city.
"A must for your picnic includes a waterproof picnic blanket so you don't get damp if the soil is damp from the night before, a cooler for your drinks and a few reusable ice blocks for your food, especially if you're planning to stay longer than two hours. Some games such as cards or rackets is also a big plus!"
"I love London in the summer. I remember the heatwave two years ago, the group chat would be going off all day with plans to meet after work in Brockwell Park. Picnics have been the only way to socialise outside during lockdown. It's also so much cheaper than drinks in the city. I even bought a cool box for the ice.
"A great location and good food makes the perfect picnic. I like areas where there's not a million other people having a picnic so we can spread out and play music. Also coordination of food is a must, can't end up with five packs of Quorn eggs. But also cider and Morley's chicken is a great combo. Don't forget your big blanket, hamper, prosecco and preferably pizza, and wear something you can run in for an impromptu rounders game."