When good weather pulls diners outdoors, savvy restaurateurs are going with them with the offer of full-service picnic programs with unique tastes that will travel.
Offering a picnic option won’t boost profits overnight, but it will illustrate to guests that you want to cater to them wherever they may be, which is especially effective if you’re already offering catering. Picnics are also a perfect way to attract attention to your restaurant during the warmer months and at festival time.
“Select a menu for the baskets that ‘travels well’ and can be eaten at room temperature,” advised chef Suzanne Goin from The Larder at Tavern, which has been offering picnic boxes year round since 2009 at three Southern California locations. “You’ll often see salmon or chicken for proteins; pasta is not a good choice. And make sure that everything a guest needs is included—plates, cutlery, glasses and water.”
The Larder offers three basic baskets for $28 each, and all are customizable, with wine and additional sides as options.
Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Boston has been offering its picnic baskets from June through August for the past five years with a choice of two salads, two sandwiches, fresh fruit and berries, assorted Italian cheeses and still or sparkling water, according to owner Steve DiFillippo. Each basket is $95, excluding tax, with $25 refunded upon return of the basket.
Catherine Medrano, executive chef at Loews Regency New York Hotel, said the hotel launched a picnic program in May through a partnership with Perfect Picnic NYC, a third-party service that sources and assembles all picnic products for them. “We offer three different tiered options year round: $35, $100 and $350,” said Medrano. “Each includes local cheeses and charcuterie, sweets, artisanal breads and fruits.”
Another newcomer to the picnic game, Boston’s Post 390, launched a $50 picnic for two this summer. The baskets were offered early summer through September and featured dishes from executive chef Nick Deutmeyer, including a gourmet salad of artisan lettuces; a choice of a platter of antipasto or mezze; a choice of salted caramels or mini chocolate chip cookies; and a choice of beverage director Jason Percival’s handmade Meyer lemon and tarragon sparkling lemonade or strawberry sweet tea. The basket was the guest’s to keep, and a blanket could be added for $15.
“We wanted to give guests options, but keep those options limited for execution purposes and assurance of quality with the selected items,” said Post 390 general manager Lauren Brakoniecki. “The most difficult piece of the program was finding a basket that fit all the components that was readily available for the price point we were looking for.”
Alerting the Masses
Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to offer in your basket, you’ll need to let guests know about it. The Larder promotes picnic baskets on its website, in-store marketing, social media and through publicists who distribute a yearly news alert about the offering each summer, according to Goin.
“We’ve used both Instagram and Facebook to market the basket,” added Brakoniecki. “We have information at the front door and on our chalkboards in the restaurant. We also reached out to local concierge to make them aware and suggest the basket to guests looking for fun activities in the city.”
DiFillippo, who said Davio’s sells between 20 to 25 baskets each summer, said, “We have a marketing piece that we showcase in the restaurant as check presenters and a poster, and we include it in our monthly newsletter.”
Whether you go through a third party or manage a picnic program on your own, keep in mind that every product that comes from you is a reflection of your brand. “Make sure your team is on board with the concept and that it’s well thought out,” warned DiFillippo. “You need someone to spearhead the project from a management perspective so that the guest receives the best quality product.”