The Summer Picnic, Revisited


by JJ Proville
June 2008

The Problem: Seasonal summer slowdown.
The Causes: Regular customers leave for vacation and the ones left behind eschew the dining room for the outdoors.
The Symptoms: Sales and kitchen morale are down.

A Solution: Offer take-out from your menu

f we’ve learned anything from the massive success of Whole Foods to-go section, it’s that people love to have dinner made easy – especially in the summer months, when casual entertaining and picnics are de rigueur. Encouraging customers to grab a meal to-go from your restaurant when they hit the beach or park for a hot-weather picnic is a practical business strategy that can help you recoup some of that lost seasonal business.

All it takes is a basic tweaking of your current menu items and some planning which should help make life easier for your kitchen. For example, portion the dishes into easily manageable quantities and in the right containers. Have your customers place orders at least 48 hours in advance, so you know exactly what – and how much – to have ready. You can even profit from the added-value of the unique service you’re offering by bundling the food with the rest of the picnic experience (basket, silverware, condiments, maybe even a bottle of wine) while charging a little more.

As far as marketing goes, you’ll want to let the local population know that they can switch up the hot dog grilling for gourmet picnics from their favorite restaurant. Light advertising, in the form of word-of-mouth, mini-menus, signs, a restaurant newsletter, or a banner on your website, can help spread the word. Promote the take-out menu before holidays or weekends and offer weekly dinner specials.

To jump-start your imagination, here are 6 recipes for take-out friendly dishes from chefs around the country. The point here is versatility – in flavors, preparations, form, and more. Any cuisine can be tailored to a picnic – some may just need more instructions than others. For example: Chef Justin Devillier’s Crab Baked in Brie Cream shouldn’t be left out in the sun too long. The mushroom pate should be kept fresh and neatly sliced onto some good bread. Chef Egdar Caro’s Mazorca is a South American street food-inspired potato salad whose ingredients shouldn’t be tossed together until the last minute (to avoid a soggy mess). You get the idea – so go forth and prosper (and offer summer picnic take-out).


Blue Crab Baked in Brie Cream
Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery – New Orleans, LA

Peruvian Tabouli
Chef Giuseppe Tentori of Boka – Chicago, IL

Chef Edgar Caro of Baru Bistro – New Orleans, LA

Bacon Sandwich
Chef Ratha Chau of Kampuchea– New York, NY

Chilled Green Bean Salad

Chef Josh Eden of Shorty’s.32 – New York, NY

Wild Mushroom Pate
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – Dallas, TX


   Published: June 2008