So I was left to my own devices, to basically just wing it. Here's what I learned:
The last thing you'll need to worry about is packing up at the end of your picnic. Once again, having that sheet is a lifesaver. Aside from keeping everything relatively sand-free, you're less likely to forget something if everything has been kept contained on top of that sheet. Small things can get lost easily, especially after sunset, but if you've kept everything on the sheet, packing up is a piece of cake. Don't forget THREE garbage bags, too -- one for dirty dishes, one for garbage, and the third for linens and the sheet (see #5 below).
2. Sitting on the sand is highly overrated. Just because you're on a "picnic" doesn't mean you have to sit on the ground...especially if you're going to be eating things like seared foie gras or balancing water glasses, wine glasses, and everything else. We have a large portable camp table, which works perfectly for beach picnics. It's lightweight, goes together quickly, and allows us to eat the way we like to eat -- without spilling everything all over our laps. If you bring a table, don't forget to check the height of your chairs ahead of time...camp chairs can sink in the sand, so test the relative height of the table before you fill it with plates of food. You can always bury the table legs a bit, if necessary, but this is easier to do if there's nothing on it yet.
I also used acrylic juice glasses for candle holders. Though we were on a private beach and therefore not constrained by the no-fires rule, I really didn't want to mess with real candles because a) I had no idea how stable our table set up would be (and knowing me, I'd probably drop a pot on one, burn myself on it while trying to cook, etc.), and b) candles + being 10 feet from crashing waves in the evening = they'd never stay lit for more than a few seconds anyway. We have various forms of battery operated LED lights, which worked very well and gave us just the right amount of light and ambiance.
4. Skip the paper. Paper blows away -- so forego the paper napkins or paper towels in favor of large tea towels instead. Not only will they stay put, but remember, you're eating outside -- anything can happen. A large tea towel can be used as a hot pad/mitt, to clean up accidental splashes and spills, or just to cover your entire lap. Plus, no waste is a good thing, especially when you're carrying everything out yourself.
5. Take your time cleaning up. Not only do you NOT want to forget anything, but taking a few extra moments now will save you tons of time and hassle later. Scrape extra food off plates, stack, and store with empty used food storage containers and any other dirty dishes in one of the garbage bags you remembered to bring (see #1 above). Keep good leftovers separate from food waste; place all garbage in the second garbage bag you remembered to bring. After everything else is packed, place soiled linens on the sheet you brought, wrap it tightly, and place the entire bundle in the third bag you brought. Alternatively, if you're concerned about sand in your car (which you shouldn't be, if you kept everything on top of that sheet), place just the linens in bag #3, shake off that sheet, and keep it handy so it's easy to find when you reach your car. Now you have one bag of dishes that won't mess up anything else in your car, one bag of garbage which you can dispose of immediately, and one bag of laundry. Boom.
6. My don't forget list. Of course you'll remember the big things, like chairs, the table, the food, etc. I won't be so patronizing as 99% of the "Perfect Picnic Pins" you'll find on Pinterest that remind you to bring your cooler and your food with you -- really, duh. But here's my list of silly things that are often forgotten (read: things I've forgotten before, sometimes more than once):
- 2 aim-n-flames or lighters. Don't trust one, especially around sand and wind. Take a backup.
- Wine opener and stopper, if you don't plan on finishing the bottle. Don't trust that the cork will remain intact, especially if it's an older bottle. Take a spare.
- Hot pad or mitt (or something similar, assuming you're cooking part of your meal)
- Headlamp or flashlight (it may be darker than you anticipate when you're hiking back to your car!)
- Key keeper...ok, this is a little weird, but bear with me...be sure to either tie something large and bright to your car keys, or place them in a bright bag, or something...don't just shove them in a pocket or purse. The last thing you want to do is fumble for keys, worry that you dropped them in the sand (not that we've done that or anything...hmmm...), forget which "safe place" you stashed them so you wouldn't "forget" where you put them, etc. Plus, I don't know about you, but I don't take my purse on these outings, so I don't have my usual key-stashing-spot anyway. You're going to be bending over to put tables and chairs together, cook food, spread that big sheet you brought, pack stuff up, maybe visit tidepools or climb on rocks or investigate the seashore, etc...so a pocket isn't a good idea, either. It's amazing how many people write nasty reviews about a particular beach or camping spot simply because they stupidly lost their keys there (as though it's the fault of the State Park System, you know?). Don't be one of *those* guys. Pick a special spot for keys, make it obvious, and check to make sure you still have them before you leave your picnic spot.
- Wipes or at least water you're willing to use for hand washing rather than drinking. We're backpackers, kayakers, cyclists...we're not overly weird about being pristine and clean all the time. But I'm also extremely versed in food safety, having catered many events and having cooked for hundreds of camp people in a very isolated place where foodborne illness is not something we can easily handle or endure. Setting up tables and chairs and everything can be messy. Cooking can be messy. Be prepared with something to use to keep at least your hands relatively clean.
- Extra ziploc bags for leftovers
- An extra towel to wrap around your dirty knives. Knives will poke out of that garbage bag you remembered to bring, and I don't like putting my dirty knives in my regular camp kitchen or knife roll. Bring something to protect your knives and yourself -- ideally, this could be the hot pad/mitt, which would kill 2 birds with one stone. Even a sturdy freezer ziploc bag would work.
- Something to look forward to when it's over. Seriously. So you just had the most romantic, perfect picnic ever, you get back to the car, and now all you have to look forward to is a) doing a lot of dishes, and/or b) a long drive home. Stash something fun in the car...a book on tape if you have a long drive ahead, bottles of flavored water and special snacks, a thermos of coffee, etc. You may even want to save dessert for when you get back to the car rather than enjoy it on the beach (or hey, have two desserts). I don't know how many times we've had a fabulous outing, then get back to the car and all we can think about is what a huge pain in the rear it's going to be to drive two hours home and then spend forever unpacking the car/dishes/cooler/etc. I usually stash a card in the car or in my bag for my husband, sap that I am, but on our beach trip we also had a great book by Carl Hiassen on tape to look forward to, and some cardamom flavored sparkling water waiting in the car, too. Weird maybe, but sometimes you need a little something to look forward to when trudging over the sand laden with used picnic supplies.