Add Pizzazz to Your Company Picnic

Does your annual company picnic need a little pick-me-up? Here are some ideas to add pizzazz without necessarily increasing your budget.

As summer begins, you’re probably making plans for your annual company picnic. Chances are the event will be identical to previous years. Hot dogs, hamburger, chicken and/or ribs, salads and watermelon will likely be on your menu and volleyball, softball and swimming on your activity list. Ho-hum.

Here are some ideas to add pizzazz to your picnic, without necessarily increasing your budget.

Move It
If you have held your picnic at the same spot for more than two or three years in a row, consider moving it. Look for alternative locales. If your barbecue is generally held in a park, move it to the beach. If you’re at the beach, move it to a lake. Even if you have to keep it at the same park as always, try to set up your event at another location in the park to offer a slight change of vista.

The Theme’s the Thing
Create a theme for the picnic. Themes not only add a little excitement, they allow you to make small changes to your plans that have a big impact. Best of all, themes can provide focus to your plans and help you stay on track. “Under the Big Top,” “Country Fair,” “It’s Best Our West,” or “Out On Safari” are all popular, easy-to-execute and affordable themes.

Your menu may stay the same if you wish, but by changing the atmosphere or even how it is served, your familiar fare will take on new appeal.

For an “Under the Big Top” event:

  • Cover the tables with red and white striped cloths.
  • Rent popcorn and cotton candy machines.
  • Dress the serving staff in clown attire.
  • Hire a face painter or find some volunteers to paint children’s faces.
  • Serve peanuts in shells from paper sacks.
  • Dress yourself or a senior staff member as the ringmaster and announce activities.
  • Invite employees to bring in pets who can do tricks for the crowd. (Check to make sure that the venue allows animals.)
  • Bring in a petting zoo.
  • Ask a local gymnastics group to perform.
  • Play calliope music.
  • Serve hot dogs and ice cream from rented push carts.
  • Create a midway of rides and/or games. You can hire companies to come in to do this or you can rent or buy games and have volunteers staff the booths. Just be sure to have inexpensive prizes, not only for the children who “win” the games, but also for those who participated. And, don’t forget the grown-ups. Set up tests of strength, dart and target games so they can enjoy the midway as well.
  • Bring in entertainers: magicians, jugglers, stilt walkers, etc. in keeping with the circus theme. Most have costumes that would be appropriate to your theme to add to the atmosphere.
  • If you normally rent a plain white tent, see if a striped tent is available.
  • Should you hold your event in a pavilion, fill the structure’s ceiling with a large quantity of balloons to create a circus atmosphere.

For a “Country Fair” theme:

  • Decorate your tables in a gingham print.
  • Serve beverages from mason jars.
  • Invite employees to bring in their favorite recipe to be judged in a “best chili,” “best barbecue sauce,” or “best preserves” contest.
  • Ask employees to exhibit their homemade crafts. (You might want to have these judged as well by a representative from a local crafts store.)
  • If you have several employees who are weekend gardeners, encourage them to show off their prize produce.
  • Have fun with a pie-eating or watermelon seed-spitting contest. (Paper plates full of whipped cream are a sticky, sweet, affordable alternative to pie.)
  • Arrange typical country fair games such as three-legged or potato sack races and a tug-of-war with management versus employees.
  • Dress your servers in bib overalls or gingham shirts.
  • Set up hay rides around the picnic area or park.

For an “It’s Best Out West” theme:

  • Use checked or gingham table covers (this is the perfect way to use any extra party products from a previous “Country Fair” party).
  • Straw cowboy hats make great party favors, centerpieces and bowls for dry snacks. These can be purchased for as little as $1 each.
  • When you need extra seating, bring in bales of hay. In some areas, you can rent and return any undamaged bales.
  • Encourage your guests to toast their own wieners on sticks over the fire.
  • Host a “chili cook-off,” “baked beans” or “barbecue sauce” contest among employees.
  • Locate a nearby rodeo and bring in cowboys and gals who can do rope trick, quick-draw, or archery exhibitions.
  • Hire a square dance caller and get everyone up to learn how to dosie-do.
  • Bring in pony rides for the little buckaroos.
  • Barbecue beef ribs instead of pork for a more western taste to your menu.
  • Set up horseshoe pitching competitions for different age groups.
  • Serve sarsaparilla, lemonade or root beer in handled mugs instead of the usual punch or canned colas.
  • Use sheriff’s badges as name tags by writing on them with a permanent marker or affixing a name label.
  • Rent a chuck wagon as the place to dispense the chow.

For an “Out On Safari” theme:

  • Pith helmets can be used as serving bowls and party favors.
  • Use stuffed toy jungle animals for centerpieces.
  • Dress your waitstaff in animal print shirts or khaki shirts and pith helmets.
  • Hang toy monkeys from the trees.
  • Give the kids butterfly nets to catch “wild” prey.
  • Try to set this theme party at a local zoo so the big game hunters can see jungle beasts up close.
  • Hand out disposable cameras and have a guide take guests on a photo safari of the zoo.
  • Set up a scavenger hunt using natural items found at the picnic site as the objects participants must find and bring back on their list.
  • If possible, set up elephant or camel rides.
  • Encourage children to draw their favorite animal and then let them save their artwork in an animal print frame.
  • Cover tables in animal print cloth, paper or plastic tablecloths.
  • Buy novelty “animal noses” for guests to wear.
  • Bring in a face painter (or get volunteers) to turn little faces into jungle beasts.
  • Invite your African-American employees to share some of their ancestral culture with your other guests.
  • Add an aural element to the occasion by playing authentic African music and sounds of wild animals.
  • Make multiple diagonal cuts into your hot dogs, not quite all the way through, and fill the slits with ketchup, mustard and relish. Then tell your younger guests they’re eating a “snake.”
  • Instead of beef, consider serving your guests ostrich meat burgers. Many specialty butcher shops carry these beefy-tasting, but low fat red meat.If ostrich meat is not available in your area you can order it online from a number of sources. To find them, do an online search for Ostrich Meat.
  • Let your guests create their own tribal masks with paper maché, paints, feathers and beads.
  • Make a punch and call it “jungle juice.”

Inviting Ideas
Since the party starts when the invitation arrives, try these ideas to start excitement about the event weeks before the picnic date and answer any typical questions guests may have.

  • Send invitations to your employees’ homes printed on decorative paper stock themed to your event instead of passing out a plain flyer at work.
  • For added fun, invite your employees’ children and ask them to bring their parents.
  • Write the invitation using language that compliments the theme. (For instance, use words like chow or vittles for a western theme.)
  • Include not only the date, but day of the week, to avoid possible mistakes.
  • Include an RSVP date and reply information.
  • Encourage guests to come dressed in keeping with the theme.
  • Designate if it’s a “rain or shine” event or if there is a rain date.
  • Assign an employee to take responses and answer any questions.
  • If you are holding your event at a new location, be sure to enclose a map and directions.
  • Include the start and stop times of the event.
  • When possible, arrange a car pool service for people who may have transportation problems.
  • Be specific on your invitation if guests, other than immediate family members of employees, are permitted to attend. Some employees may assume they can bring along other relatives or friends of their children, so be specific to avoid any embarrassing situations.
  • Specifically state whether pets are allowed. People often believe they can bring pets to any outdoor events. For safety’s sake, except for certain exceptions such as having pets included in your circus theme, discourage employees from bringing their animals. If you choose to have them included, insist that animals be tethered or caged at all times. Also be certain to provide a shady area, sufficiently large to keep pets segregated as necessary, plenty of fresh drinking water, bowls, and a place for owners to walk their pet and plastic bags to dispose of waste.
  • If alcohol is prohibited at the site you have chosen, please remind your guests not to bring their own.

Potent Picnic Potables
The decision whether or not to serve alcohol at your event may not only lie with you. Many public parks and private venues prohibit the use of alcohol on their premises. If you wish to serve alcohol, keep in mind the following items.

  • Be sure to have a sufficient amount of soft drink options in addition to any alcohol you may serve, not only for the children, but any adults who may choose not to imbibe or limit their alcohol intake.
  • Act responsibly. You may not or may not be legally libel for any accidents that may occur by a guest who has left your event, but you are morally responsible to make sure of your guests’ safety.
  • If you suspect someone has over-indulged (and it takes only one drink — a can of beer, a glass or wine or a mixed drink per hour for most people to reach or exceed their alcohol limit by law), be certain that they do not drive themselves home.
  • Establish a car-pool system, request volunteers to be designated drivers (and offer an incentive if you must) or hire a transportation service to make sure everyone arrives home alive.
  • Arrange for a bartender or two to ensure that no one is either over-indulging or imbibing and are under the legal drinking age.
  • Remember, friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Be a friend to your employees and their guests.

Better Safe Than Sorry
Many people assume that their homeowners or business liability insurance will cover them during an off-site party. Depending on your policy, that might not be the case. Likewise, when you are working with vendors, be sure to obtain a contract for services.

  • Contact your insurance provider to determine if you have sufficient coverage.
  • Insist that any vendors hired for your event are covered with a minimum of a $1 million policy and provide you with a valid insurance certificate that has you named as an additional insured for the day of the event.
  • Have any contracts for services reviewed by your attorney. For general guidelines of what provisions should be found suppliers’ (entertainers, caterers, photographers, etc.) contracts, check Chapter 5: “When It’s Time to Go Pro” of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Throwing a Great Party (Alpha Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing).

Most of all, make your company picnic an event that will be looked forward to, not only by your employees and their families, but also by yourself. After all, don’t you deserve a wonderful day in the great outdoors too?

Copyright 2001-2013, All Rights Reserved

Phyllis Cambria is a speaker, co-author (with Patty Sachs) of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Throwing a Great Party, celebrations and marketing expert and partners with her co-author in . She can be reached at or 954-974-7907.

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