The quintessential guide to the British picnic

In other words, how not to be a knob at the park

The 1920’s etiquette book, Perfect Behaviour, A guide for Ladies and Gentlemen in All Social Crises, dedicates a whole section to picnic etiquette and reminds us that “one should not make the mistake of thinking that because he or she is ‘roughing it’ for a day, he or she can therefore leave behind his or her ‘manners’, for such is not the case.”

Although times have changed, the importance of good etiquette, no matter your age, is arguably more important in the park when you never know who might see you behaving badly (something to bear in mind at this potentially pivotal point in our early careers).


The most important aspect of the picnic, food items should be chosen wisely – especially considering that most of it will be served at an inappropriate temperature.

Do find out from the person who has invited you on the picnic what you should contribute, and always provide what has been requested of you, even if it was the green salad and you know your flapjacks would have been well better than the person who will just turn up with Asda’s own. Communication between picnickers prior to the picnic is essential to make sure all bases are covered and there are no duplicates.

Don’t dress greens before you are all set up on the blanket. The salad will go soggy if you cover it in dressing at home and the way you dress is subjective.

Do try anything which has been home-baked by someone, this is not optional unless you are at certain risk of suffering an anaphylactic shock from said home-baked item (in which case you should inform the picnic party beforehand). Shop-bought items do not require tasting.

Don’t take messy foods or anything which can get stuck in your teeth, as you are unlikely to have access to a mirror or toothbrush for a number of hours after eating. This includes anything with pesto or black pepper. If it is an early date picnic you should also avoid foods which could put your date off a cheeky neck.

Do take double the amount of each item than you would for an indoor gathering, so people can have seconds and thirds (likely to happen when spending the full day on the blanket).


Be prepared to share anything you bring to the picnic; don’t take fancy scotch eggs hoping to keep them to yourself, because once you open the hamper, everything is fair game. This doesn’t just go for food, but also for the likes of chewing-gum, wet wipes and sun cream.


It is illegal to carry a knife in public without good reason. Blunt knives to spread are acceptable but do cut anything that requires a sharp knife (such as sandwiches, carrots etc.) at home and don’t take a sharp knife to the picnic.

Do take a knife per person or per spreadable item. Cross-contamination between the pickle and the pâté is a definite picnic faux-pas.


Don’t put shoes on the picnic blanket as this is the seating for the day.

Do take shoes off if you know your feet don’t smell stronger than the cheese and onion pasties.

Don’t, under any circumstances, put your feet near food. Even if you have just got your shellac done and you think your feet are beautiful, trust me, nobody wants them near the pork pies.


Don’t be that person that plays music like its your last day on earth. Taking speakers and playing appropriate music at a low speaking volume is fine, but anything louder could irritate other people in your picnic party who have to shout to chat or don’t share your love of Dragonette. Also, it will definitely annoy nearby picnic groups on a busy day (refer to earlier warning of who might see you being the park knob).

Do take games to make the most of the occasion. However, don’t take anything that is potentially offensive such as Cards Against Humanity (which, although a great game, is only suited to the privacy of your indoor pre’s). Also, don’t wear short or floaty skirts and then go thinking you can win at Twister; you might be a champion at contorting your body around any number of people, and may even enjoy the idea of giving the old couple on the blanket next to you a bit of a treat, but you don’t want a picture of your lily white behind going around Facebook by Monday.


If you insist on a disposable BBQ (which I wouldn’t recommend as it’s always much more hassle than it’s worth), then make sure you are far away from other picnic-goers so the bellowing smoke wont bother them when it all goes inevitably tits-up.

Don’t smoke when others are eating. Just because you are in the open air doesn’t mean your non-smoking mate wants a face full of the stuff every 20 minutes – be prepared to step away from the blanket to light up if this is the case.

Don’t put your cigarette out in the coleslaw.


Do take alcohol, the sun is out and it’s cause for celebration! But also bring plenty of water as dehydration is likely when you mix Pimm’s and a hot day.

Don’t take cans. This isn’t really bad etiquette, but my Grandma always told me that the sugar will attract wasps and you can’t see if one has fallen into the can. The fear of a mouthful of Fanta a la wasp will forever be ingrained on me.

Don’t take flasks. They are very 70’s and can be kitsch if filled with mojito, but it is likely to be tainted with the taste of the chicken soup that your dad took to the match a month ago.  I would recommend sticking to large glass bottles which make for equally good pictures for the all important ‘#picnic’ collection.

The clean up

Respect your park and take rubbish away with you. I do not need to remind Madmen fans, but don’t do this…