Last year, some of the first small businesses to fall victim to the pandemic were any that involved socializing, including party venues, event planners and catering.
But a few creative minds found ways to capitalize on the need to connect with others in a safe way. Between last summer and fall, four new businesses specializing in outdoor, luxury picnics – think low tables adorned with fresh flowers, colorful pillow seating, bottles of champagne and lacy tents – emerged from the rubble of COVID-19. (Another had already been in the works for a year.)
Many of the founders we spoke with had similar stories as to why they started offering Pinterest-worthy picnics last year. In efforts to maintain some sense of normalcy in 2020, they planned over-the-top outdoor celebrations — and friends and family members were wowed. So, they began offering the parties to the masses.
But these picnics are far cries from the classic blanket and basket. Generally ranging from $350 to $1,000, including setup and breakdown, these events are sometimes adorned with oversized bell tents, wine tastings, beach views, candles, personalized signage, and for one business, alpacas.
Here are a few Central Jersey luxury picnic companies bringing style to the great outdoors.
La TAS Events, Franklin Park section of Somerset
Suzette Louis-Jacques always loved to entertain. After months away from friends and family due to COVID-19 and her job working on the front lines in nursing, she hosted a Fourth of July picnic for a few family members as a way to gather safely outside.
When a friend saw Louis-Jacques’ beautiful party, she reminded her of their trip to Savannah, Georgia, in 2019, when they met a luxury picnic organizer and Louis-Jacques became interested in the idea.
“I thought, ‘Could this happen in New Jersey?’ ” Louis-Jacques said. “I could not see it from there but from that moment on, my friend started saying ‘I want to remind you of this little dream and I think this is a good time.’ I started thinking about it more.”
In August, she began planning one picnic at a time just by word-of-mouth, and within a month, business had boomed.
Now, La TAS Events offers picnics, either in a park or at a private residence, for up to 20 people. Picnics generally range from $350 to $1,000 depending on number of guests and add-ons. There is no travel fee if the event is within 20 miles of Franklin Park.
Options start with Classic Package with candles, lanterns, blankets and pillows ranging to the Luxe Package with fresh flowers, a charcuterie board, a low table, tableware, board games, a custom message and more. Add-ons include a teepee, corn hole and professional photography.
Although the events may be luxe, Louis-Jacques stresses it isn’t all about dollar signs.
“We get a lot of great Pinterest-inspired picnic photos, but I like to set expectations, like, ‘That floral arrangement you want would cost $800,’ ” she said. “The purpose of this isn’t to go broke, it’s to capture great memories in a way that is safe, fun and different. There’s something beautiful about being outside, enjoying a meal, decompressing, not being connected and feeling free.”
That also means an event that’s fit for the guest of honor, no matter what their interests or favorite colors are.
“We try to highly customize each event so it’s not cookie-cutter,” Louis-Jacques said. “Every client has a chance to design and select and be a part of the process. I always tell people, ‘I don’t want to create the picnic of my dreams, I want to do the work to create the picnic of your dreams.’ ”
To book: 732-630-2443; latasevents.com.
Styled Memorable Picnics, Monroe
Denisse Santiago and her husband love to create new memories and try new things. During COVID-19, that wasn’t easy, especially when it came time for their anniversary celebration in August.
“I wanted to do something different in COVID where we would be together by ourselves, so I started to research picnic ideas and how to put it together,” Santiago said. “I ordered a few things and when it came down to putting this beautiful picnic together, we quickly realized it was a lot of work. Once we set it up, we were so exhausted we didn’t get to enjoy it as much as we would if someone had done it for us.”
So, she decided to offer the service herself, being that she had already purchased some of the materials and she noticed that not many luxury picnic companies existed in New Jersey.
“I bought a few things, put a few setups together, posted it on Instagram, and before we knew it, we had a few people interested,” said Santiago, who also works as an executive assistant.
Styled Memorable Picnics has no travel fee within 15 miles of Monroe and offers picnic packages beginning at $150, which feature an ottoman setting with pillows, rugs, water, ice and a radio. The price then varies on the number of people and upgrades, like a low table, charcuterie boards, sushi and more. Most picnics for two to four people cost $300 to $400, but prices can range up to $1,000.
Styled Memorable Picnics also offers packages featuring wine tastings, movie nights, raspberry rosé popsicles, and even settings on a local alpaca farm.
“We try to make it more an experience and add something to look forward to rather than just the usual picnic,” Santiago said. “We like to add something extra to it to make it more fun and different.”
Uniquely Made Event Planning, Piscataway
For six years, Jasmine Wright has run her full-service event planning business Uniquely Made Event Planning. But when COVID-19 hit last year, she had to get creative to bring high-caliber events to her clients.
“A lot of my clients wanted to do an intimate setting but the venue spaces weren’t open yet, so I thought about doing events outdoors,” said Wright, who began offering the picnics in July. “I had someone build me a table, I set it in the park for my client and from then on I’ve been doing these picnics.”
For Wright, the picnics were also personal.
“I was a person who was cautious about being in larger crowds and I felt like this was an intimate setting where you could be with five to 10 friends, still social distance and have a good time to eat,” she said. “I just really wanted everyone to be safe.”
Wright’s picnics can accommodate up to 10 people and include a low table, linen blanket, pillows, tableware, artificial flowers, candles and table décor, sparkling water, games like Jenga and corn hole, ice, customized glasses and tumblers, and a Bluetooth speaker.
Prices range from $160 to $475 for the 2½-hour picnics. Add-ons like a teepee, full height table, doughnut wall, custom masks and name plate settings are also available. There is no travel fee within 25 miles of Piscataway.
To book: 908-652-6233; uniquelymadeevents.com.
Whimsy Rose Outdoors, Colonia section of Woodbridge
COVID-19 cost Colonia resident Dakota Rose her job in fashion as a brand and production manager, but it landed her a new one hosting luxury outdoor events.
Last summer, Rose hosted a baby shower for a friend using a chic tent she had purchased for music festivals.
“She was so amazed and excited about how it turned out, and a lot of the people that came to the party wanted me to do events for them, and they were pushing for me to do this on the side,” Rose said.
She launched her new business in September and it quickly took off. “I’ve been booked every weekend since then,” Rose said. “Right now since we’re so busy, this has turned into a full-time thing.”
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Outdoor events, which have no travel fee within Union County, can range from $100 to $1,000 and include Moroccan-style seating with pillows and poufs, hanging lanterns and lights, lace tents for kids and picnics inside a bell tent.
Whimsy Rose Outdoors is more of a tent and outdoor ambiance rental company, Rose said, that also does picnics. “Since we have the tents and canopies, we bring a whole other element to a picnic rather just a table and some pretty décor.”
To book: 908-917-0338; whimsyroseoutdoors.com.
Mega Celebrations, Warren
Meg Ruperto, a dance teacher and gymnastics instructor, loved working kids’ parties at her job. She became interested in being a children’s event planner, and after scrounging Pinterest, she convinced her husband to make her an indoor sleepover tent for the events. Soon, that extended to him creating low picnic tables for the sleepovers, too – which came in handy once COVID-19 hit and everything went outdoors.
“My plan was to always expand to bring the tables outside and do the big outdoor bell tent that we have now,” Ruperto said. “COVID-19 happened, and I thought this is the perfect time to bring our picnic tables outside. When things opened back up in the summer, we had so many requests, so we just kept building more and then we bought the big tent for the picnics.”
Unlike some luxury picnic companies, Mega Celebrations caters to larger events due to their inventory of low tables – they can host bridal showers, baby showers and other parties with upwards of 30 guests.
They also have full-height farm tables for those who cannot sit on the ground. Picnics are often paired with the company’s outdoor bell tent.
Pricing is calculated based on the number of tables. One table costs $365, which accommodates up to eight guests and includes pillow seating, rug, table décor, place settings, setup and pickup. Each additional table is $225. There is no travel fee within 20 miles of Warren.
To book: 908-340-6316; mega-celebrations.com.
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member at the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, after becoming a blogger-turned-reporter following the creation of her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her stories about food, drink and fun, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: JIntersimone@Gannett.com or @JIntersimone.