Popularized amid a pandemic and optimized for Instagram, pop-up picnics proliferate

You’ve probably been to a traditional picnic, where friends and family bring blankets and food and gather outside to eat and socialize. But pop-up picnics are not your ordinary summer get-together.

They are high-end affairs with sophisticated fare. They often come fully catered, featuring food like charcuterie boards.

Rather than old blankets, seating at these picnics typically involves an array of cushions and plush throws designed around a theme.

Hate doing the dishes? You can order china and glassware on customized table settings to be set up before the event and cleaned up after.

“I always love to have different levels to my decor,” said Andrea Lyn Seppo, the owner of Andrea Lyn Events in Columbia. “So I usually like to have a lower table decor, and then lighting and then something tall, whether it’s floral or another lighting piece, just to add that layer of dimension to your table setting.”

Andrea Lyn Events offers pop-up picnics and stylized dining. Seppo opened the business in January after noticing the success of similar businesses across the state and country.

The pop-up picnic business has taken off amid the pandemic, and Missouri entrepreneurs have been quick to bring the trend of small, outdoor dining to the state. Businesses like Seppo’s have experienced growth despite the disruption of in-person events. According to the Live Events Coalition, an industry group, 90% of events businesses have seen cancellations since the beginning of the pandemic.

Hear more: The Speaking Startup podcast features pop-up picnics

Julie Ellison was no stranger to these event cancellations. Before the pandemic, she worked as a freelance event planner in San Diego. After COVID-19 hit, all of her events were canceled for the rest of 2020, and she was forced to move back to St. Louis with her parents.

“One night I was scrolling through Instagram, and I saw somebody on a picnic,” Ellison said. “I’m like, ‘Do we have that in St. Louis?’ And I literally stayed up all night long searching, and we didn’t. And the next day, I was like, ‘I’m starting a pop-up picnic business. I can do this.'”

Ellison started her company, Alpaca Picnic, in October. After booking 12 picnics in 2020, her business has taken off in 2021. Ellison said she has over 300 picnics lined up through the end of the year, ranging from small dinners with two people to large corporate events with 50 people.

“The need during COVID to actually be in contact with friends, actually see people, be with intimate groups — that really helped pop-up picnics,” Ellison said, “because you were outdoors, you were sitting around the table, so at least you had that space in between each other.”

Pop-up picnics have gained popularity during the pandemic, but Missouri entrepreneurs who put on the events believe they’re here to stay. | Courtesy of Alpaca Picnic

Social media plays a large role in the marketing of these events. Businesses use social channels to market their table designs and get new clients. Some even offer photography services as an add-on to give clients photos for their social media profiles.

“It’s actually pretty Instagrammable as well,” Ellison said. “I know people live for the ‘Gram, so you’ve got to get those pictures.”

Seppo said social media has been the primary driver to connect her with new clients.

“Pop-up picnics are very much social media-driven,” Seppo said. “They are very photogenic. Thus, the reason I will say that 100% of my clients that I have gotten have been off of social media, and have been coming to me with a package in mind or a design that they want me to do, because of what they have seen, either from what I have offered, or something that they’ve seen that they want me to pattern after.”

The picnics have become popular ways to celebrate special events. Common occasions include anniversary dinners, bachelorette parties, birthday parties and even marriage proposals.

Clients pay a premium for these picnics. A catered function for two can cost about $250. For a group of 10, costs can be up to $850.

Customers book pop-up picnics for events ranging from birthday parties to marriage proposals. | Courtesy of Alpaca Picnic

“I think they really come just for the aesthetic and the whole vibe they get from sitting low to the ground connected with Earth and with beautiful food and scenery,” said Desiree Wilcox, co-owner of Pop-Up Picnics KC in Kansas City.

While in-person events are beginning to return across the state, business owners are confident in their ability to continue providing these picnics to clients past the pandemic.

“That’s the big myth that’s out there with pop up picnics is, ‘Oh, well, it’s gonna fail after COVID,’” Seppo said. “Well, it doesn’t have two because we were eating before COVID and we were getting together before COVID. Why not just have this be a different way that we do that?”

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