Tips for Throwing The Perfect Late Summer Picnic

Plaid blankets, string lights, live music—event planner extraordinaire David Stark spills his secrets to throwing the perfect outdoor fête.

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

With Labor Day behind us, it may seem that the season for outdoor entertaining is long gone too. But who are we kidding? These last warm weekends before real fall sets in prove to be the absolute best time to take your party outside, when no heat or humidity can interfere with a blissful, buzzy afternoon basking in the sun. After the über-imaginative David Stark created the most fall-tastic picnic party to celebrate fashion designer Adam Lippes’ new collection for Target, we turned to the creative genius behind the unforgettable fête to pick his brain for tips and tricks to achieve a similarly awesome vibe.

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

Though an epic soiree indeed—taking place on a New York City rooftop where guests lounged on plush plaid blankets beneath a string of bistro lights as live music lulled in the background—Stark promises that you can create a just-as-memorable picnic in your very own backyard with these ten clever ideas, towering skyscraper not necessary.

1. "Mounds of pillows take a picnic blanket from practical to posh.  You don’t need to buy new pillows just for your feast—sometimes I borrow them from the living room. Right after our party, the pillows go back on the sofa. Think of each picnic area as a kind of dining table.  Your blankets and pillows are your table cloths and chairs all wrapped up in one."

2. "If your picnic blanket is your dining table, set it with all the trappings of a gorgeous dinner party: real glassware, a centerpiece of the most beautiful flowers of the season, and an array of summer foods served family style."

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

3. "To give your guests something to snack on, set up a giant, wood cutting board replete with various cheeses and an amazing pâté. When choosing cheeses, think of that old rhyme: 'Something old, something new, something goat, and something blue.' A balanced cheese board includes a representation from each category of the rhyme: an aged cheddar or Parmigiano-Reggiano satisfies the old, for instance. Mozzarella or feta are new. Cheese shops are always delighted to make recommendations. If you bring your cheeses to your picnic in an ice cooler, take them out about an hour before you want to enjoy them."

4. "It’s always nice to have baskets of extra blankets or pashminas rolled up and within arm’s reach in case it gets a little chilly as the sun sets.  Wrap yourselves up and snuggle close!"

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

5. "A great summer trick: the freshest cherries of the season served over a bowl of ice keeps them deliciously chilled—like bar snacks, but healthy and blanket-side!"

6. "If you have some buddies in a band or want to hire one, a little acoustic rock and roll transports you to days spent beside the campfire."

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

7. "Keep plenty of ice buckets on hand. You don’t need to have a lot of selection [when it comes to wine]. Choose a rosé, either sparkling or non, as your drink du jour."

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

8. "Breakfast in bed trays are the perfect mini 'bar' and 'buffet' surfaces to employ in the grass.  Not only do they keep your serving platters, glassware, and wine buckets level, but they create a look that is at once casual and gracious."

9. "Old fashioned strings of lights create instant romance and are easily ordered online or bought at hardware or home décor stores. [For the Target party] we created our own lantern for each bulb from a rolled sheet of paper whose pattern was printed on a home computer and sealed with double stick tape."

10. "Whether you're inviting 2 or 200, by doing away with tables and chairs and encouraging your guests to kick off their shoes, a thoughtfully appointed picnic can be that fairytale fantasy of outdoor entertaining that we all imagine."

Photo by Susie Montagna
Photo by Susie Montagna

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