By Gerald Dlubala
This week is National Picnic Week in the UK and for well over a hundred years, park picnic tables have been calling us to a fun dining experience under an open sky. Formulated in the late 1800s, these structures have become somewhat of an outdoor altar that draws people like moths to a light bulb.
They come in all shapes and sizes, but still have the same function and purpose as those original designs providing a place for outdoor seating, entertaining, and get-togethers. Whether in your backyard, the local city or state park, around a sporting venue or outside of businesses or apartments, these functional and compact seating areas are a mainstay in our society.
But what about “park picnic table etiquette”? If anybody knows about proper dining, it’s the British. So follow their lead.
Yes, picnic table etiquette is a thing and is annoying to those that are on the receiving end of irresponsible or unsociable picnic table behavior. As a facility manager or supervisor, you may not even notice, but those that have to start their picnic off by righting the wrongs of irresponsible picnickers and their selfish park picnic table habits are taking notice.
Park picnic table etiquette
According to campground superintendents, park professionals, and apartment managers, violations of park picnic table etiquette can be a pet peeve of theirs as well as other visitors in the following situations:
- The table hog. Spreading out their stuff over multiple seats or tables and taking up multiple park grills when there are other options is selfish, and can leave other families without a space to enjoy their outing. Encourage your visitors to use what they need, but be aware of others at the same time.
- The table snatcher. This is a biggie! Park picnic tables are put in areas according to the expected capacity for that particular site. It’s simply bad form to take another site’s seating without at least asking first.
- If visitors do move tables around from other sites or move theirs to another place on the site, encourage them to return the picnic table to the proper site, on the pad that they’re supposed to be on.
- The phantom picnic table saver. We’ve all seen the tables that are loaded with coolers, towels and bags only to never have anyone around using it. Visitors should not just throw their things on a public, non-reserved park picnic table and leave for hours at a time, expecting it to be saved for you when you finally decide to return.
- The table doodler. Yeah, yeah, Johnny loves Janie. It’s cute, but please don’t carve, scratch or write it on the public use picnic tables. Document your public expression of love a different way. Sorry, but other picnickers just don’t care.
- The lazy litterbug. Generally, park picnic tables are located in areas that expect public use, so chances are, your trash receptacles are in the area as well. Encourage your visitors to use them instead of leaving food waste or trash on the table or ground. No trace left behind.
- The wildlife whisperer. Discourage feeding wildlife from a picnic site. This practice has obvious long-term effects, rewarding the animals and teaching them that a picnic table means food. While it may be cute to watch the bird, bunny, or squirrel come up for a morsel, the cuteness goes away when the raccoon, coyote, or bear decides it wants to visit the picnic table turned feeder source.
Tips For Picnic Table Success
Ok, so your guests have arrived and eyed a perfect location for their outing, complete with a park picnic table located in a great looking area. With a few hints, they can have both an attractive and functional picnic table for their function.
- Bring a tablecloth. It doesn’t need to be fancy, and likely better that it’s not. But a tablecloth is always a great idea since you won’t know the condition of the table, and it makes cleanup a breeze by wrapping it up and taking it with you. Avoid bright, flowery patterns so as to not attract bees.
- Clips or tablecloth weights. There’s nothing more bothersome than a tablecloth that keeps blowing up, flailing like Old Glory in an early spring thunderstorm, taking anything weighing less than your first born along with it. Tablecloth clips that hold the tablecloth to the edge of the table or the clipped on weights at the corners will keep the tablecloth where it should be, on the table, and not wrapped around Aunt Mary who just happened to be sitting downwind at the wrong end of the table.
- Bring a small cutting board and knife. Simple as it sounds, this pair is invaluable and will be handier than anything else in your bag, providing a sturdy, flat surface for multiple uses.
- Plates and eating utensils need to be stronger than the old-school paper towel thickness plates of yesteryear. With menus made of heartier meats, sauced-up beans and chunks of potato salad, you want plates and utensils that will stand up to the food you’re planning to serve.
- Bring along a centerpiece of marigolds. The fresh flowers add a touch of class, while marigolds have long been used as a natural insect repellent. That’s a win-win situation.
- Special note: as outdoor grilling and barbecuing has become more popular and everybody wants to be Bobby Flay on weekends, it seems that it is harder and harder to find a picnic table open, especially one next to a grill. If you bring you own picnic goodies that don’t need to be cooked, it might be smart to bring a small TV-dinner type portable table. This way you can set up a nice meal sitting on a park bench. It’s always smart to have a contingency plan!
Speaking Of Pest Control
- It’s not a bad idea to have a couple of those foldable, screen dome covers that sit over food dishes. Laid over open platters or bowls, these are excellent for keeping flies and bees off your food while keeping the food readily available.
- Citrus is a natural repellent. Start saving those orange and lemon peels to scatter around the perimeter of your picnic table.
- Create physical barriers. Putting the legs of your park picnic table, if applicable, in tins or upside down Frisbees filled with water create a moat effect that crawling insects won’t be able to navigate.
- Mouthwash can control those pesky germs in your mouth, but many have reported success just by filling a spray bottle with your favorite minty mouthwash and spraying the area around your picnic table.
- If there are trees, structures or other places around to hang a bag from, the answer may lie in a couple of Baggies filled with water, each containing 4 shiny pennies. This keeps flies away, based on their vision characteristics and the prism created by the water and reflecting copper. This one works, at least for this writer.
- Release your inner Martha Stewart, sprinkling bee-repelling mint leaves on the picnic table along with that Marigold centerpiece. Table decorations that are equally good at repelling bees? “That’s a good thing”.
Here are some more picnic tips from etiquette expert Diane Gottsman.
Wherever your guests will be spending the day outdoors, public or private parks, apartment complexes, or event venues, know that you can help them have a positive experience by providing quality park picnic tables suited for their needs, along with a few tips and guidelines to help them share nature’s space as it was intended.
Happy picnicking at your local parks!