Enjoy an Elegant Picnic This Holiday Season

Whether traveling by car or plane, here’s how to do it in style, says this coach to advisors of HNW clients.

By Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders

My wife and I try to live well while managing many things on a reasonable budget. When we take long-haul flights, we sit in coach class, dress well and bring our inflight picnic. On one flight, I even printed menus for “The Inn at Row 31.” Then came the pandemic. You and your clients might not be flying much if at all these days, but that’s no reason not to embrace the elegant picnic concept.

Most people picture picnics as sitting on a red and white checked blanket on the grass while eating cold fried chicken. That’s fine, but as I get older, I realize my legs don’t bend like they did when I was younger. Here are a handful of times when an elegant picnic fits into the story line.

  • Long-haul flights. If you are in the air for eight hours, it’s good to have control over your meal. I know this sounds like those “Can’t prevent you from becoming your parents” insurance commercials. I’ll reveal in a moment what we pack, although the concept is easily transferrable to any setting.
  • Marriott nights. Jane and I have several shopping destinations that spread out like points on a compass. About once a month we would pack a picnic and an overnight bag, drive to a Marriott hotel in that area, check in, do our shopping and return to enjoy our picnic. We can’t be the only ones obsessed with earning loyalty points! Instead of dining out, which involves drinking and driving, we dine in the room. Hotels often have a microwave in the room or the lobby.
  • Hay bales in a field. On a memorable trip through the French countryside with friends, who did the driving, we picked up a roast chicken and celeriac salad from an outdoor market in town. We pulled over by the side of the road, walked into a field, used a few haybales as our table and enjoyed an outdoor lunch. Wine was involved.
  • Roadside picnic benches. You see them when you get off the major highways in the U.S. There’s often a comfort station and a half-dozen wooden or tubular metal picnic benches. Parks have them too. Sometimes alcohol is prohibited.
  • Concerts in the park. We do this up right. We park as close as we can — this is where a handicapped parking pass helps. Jane and I wish she never had her accident, but that permanent blue placard really helps get great parking. We have collapsible tables, folding chairs from IKEA and everything needed to create an outdoor dining room seating eight!

Assembling the Inflight Picnic

For our example, we will look at what we bring onto a plane. Why? Because it’s compact. We aren’t wheeling huge coolers. In fact, we fit all our picnic supplies and food into a soft, vinyl zippered lunchbox that’s about 7 inches by 7 inches by 10 inches. Jane and I became a lot more structured after we brought a jar of caviar onto a flight years ago as a snack and discovered we couldn’t get it open. We realized there had to be a better way!

Table-Setting Components

  • Linens. We bring two white, full-size linen dining napkins (about 16 inches by 16 inches) from home to serve as our tablecloth. In addition, we include a couple of full-size paper dinner napkins from IKEA. We moved up to nonwoven napkins that look like linen, feel like paper and don’t tear.
  • Plates. Cosco sells great plastic plates that look like real China plates. They are thin plastic and come in two sizes: dinner size and salad size. We bring two of the 7-inch salad plates.
  • Glassware. This is plastic, too. Your favorite specialty wine shop should sell these bendable plastic tumbler-type wine glasses and champagne flutes. We pack the flutes because they fit well into that little vinyl lunchbox.
  • Flatware. This can be a problem. You can’t bring knives through security. Ideally, we bring the silver plastic cutlery they sell at Costco. Our standard way of getting cutlery is visiting the airline club and asking for two sets of their disposable plastic cutlery (often the same stuff). We tip the bartender.
  • Serving plates. We’ve built up a small collection of plastic ramekins (pâté comes in them), small rectangular plastic plates and other scaled-down serving plates. We only need one or two.
Picnic Fare 
  • Appetizers.  All food is packed in tiny sandwich plastic bags. The starter might be shrimp and sauce. It could be nuts and olives. It’s simple.
  • Entrée. Sometimes it’s the airline’s food. This can take some juggling. We’ve also done cold poached salmon with sauce quite successfully. We try to buy a really good roll from the local bakery, too. We split it.
  • Cheese course.  After cleaning off the entrée, we unwrap small pieces of cheese we precut earlier. We bring good crackers, dried fruit and walnut sections.
  • Dessert. This is often simple, like chocolate truffles. Sometimes the flight crew brings us ice cream sundaes from business class.
  • Wine. We buy it onboard and ask if it’s possible to buy champagne. They often will bring us some from business class.
Additional Options
  • Antipasto Ease. Instead of assembling a four-course meal, a simple option is to visit your favorite Italian restaurant, pizzeria or deli and order an antipasto platter. We bring it home, repackage it in tiny plastic containers or sandwich bags and reassemble it on the plane.
  • Extra credit. Bring paper towels and a plastic trash bag; you will need them. We book bulkhead seats — the ones where the snack table comes out of the armrest. I’ve done some measuring and figured out that two quarter-inch-thick pieces of plywood that are 16 inches wide by 18 inches long make a great 16-by-36 table. Binder clips hold the plywood onto the armrests. We cover the surface with the white linen napkins. Carrying the plywood requires another bag.

Any wonder why the flight attendants treat us well? Obviously, they took the photo of us since we are strapped into our seats.

Additional reading: Traveling Abroad? These Six Easy Steps May Guarantee Royal Treatment 

You can easily assemble a spectacular picnic for your next flight or road trip.  It’s not only elegant, but it cuts down on your meal expenses too!

Bryce Sanders, president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc., provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” is available on Amazon.


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