Planning to kick off the outdoor entertaining season this year with a tea party picnic?
The fresh air, warm sunshine, and natural scenery will surely create a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere that encourages chatting and laughter. Guests of all ages can mingle in delightful surroundings while enjoying traditional finger foods and hot or iced tea.
But a successful tea party picnic also calls for proper planning and preparation.
Unlike barbecuing, which requires your constant attention, sandwiches, scones, and desserts are prepared in advance, so the day is as enjoyable for the hosts as it is for family and friends. As long as everything is well prepared in advance.
This guide will help you plan a perfect tea party picnic and prepare all the foods and drinks so that you can focus on enjoying and entertaining.
How to Throw a Picnic Tea Party – In a Nutshell
A tea party picnic is a memorable way to celebrate any occasion — here are the basics of setting up a successful one.
Just follow our five-step plan for stress-free fun:
1. Select a Venue
Tea party picnics can be held anywhere outdoors. Whether it’s a park gathering for a hundred or a seaside tea party for two, the only rule is to choose a venue that’s pleasant and accessible for eating and conversation.
Many public places, however, have limitations on the number of guests you can invite or which facilities you can use. And some spaces are free while others charge a fee.
Accessibility and amenities are critical for large gatherings to be comfortable. Consider if bathrooms, parking, and seating are available.
2. Pick the Date and Send Out the Invitations
Outdoor events can be hampered by the weather, so it’s challenging to plan too far in advance.
Forecasts can be accurate for up to two weeks, but they’re not set in stone. Having a backup plan, such as a rain date or portable shelters, if the skies turn sour is never a bad idea.
Let your guests know if the event is rain or shine on the invitation and adjust the tea party dress code according to the weather.
3. Design the Menu
A tea party is no picnic without plenty of refreshments. You’ll want to plan a diverse and colorful menu with outdoor-friendly options that are easy to transport and eat.
Choose at least some foods that can be made 24-48 hours in advance to save time on the event day.
This is a central part of the picnic and requires the most effort. So we will cover the menu planning as well as food and drinks preparation in more detail a bit later.
4. Make a List – Check it Twice
Create a list of non-food supplies you’ll need based on the menu, the venue, and the guest list.
The basic things you might want to have include:
- Tables and seating
- Tablecloths and table clips on windy days
- Tableware and serving utensils
- A thermos or carafe for hot water or a portable tea urn for large gatherings
- An insulated picnic basket or cooler and ice
- Paper towels for spills and bags for clean-up
- Wet Naps or damp washcloths sealed in a sandwich bag
- Pop-up canopies for shade and sudden showers
5. Plan Activities
Eating is the main event at a tea party picnic. But kids usually get bored quickly and conversation can lag among adults without something else to do.
Easy-to-pack activities from card games to a soccer ball encourage guests to linger.
Plan the Menu and Buy Ingredients
Make your tea party picnic awesome and plan a complete menu that includes savory foods, decadent desserts, and a selection of teas and other drinks.
Dividing the menu into these three parts makes shopping for ingredients a breeze:
Finger sandwiches are a tea party classic. Cut into small, bite-sized portions, they’re easy to sample.
Choose a variety of fillings — you won’t go wrong with sliced ham, cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon, or egg salad. But limit foods made with mayonnaise on hot days unless you know they can be stored at safe temperatures.
Cold mini tartlets or a cheese board with a selection of crackers and fruit are other savory alternatives. Meats and cheeses are best purchased less than two days in advance for freshness.
Buy seasonal, fresh-picked veggies and fruits at a farmer’s market for optimal flavor.
The desserts you serve should reflect the occasion and your guest’s preferences.
Full-sized cakes, pies and pastries look appealing, but bite-sized treats are more finger-friendly and practical — no one wants messy fingers. And guests can help themselves without fumbling with knives or bulky serving utensils.
Think about the temperature on picnic day — certain foods, such as cake icings and egg custards, don’t hold up well in the heat. For outdoor events, we like pound cakes and scones with jam, lemon curd, or mixed fruit. Butter and sugar cookies are also quintessential choices.
Take a look at our guide with 17 mini desserts for a tea party and pick your favorites.
Don’t have time to hunt for ingredients and bake?
Skip the shopping and baking order the treats from a bakery!
The teas you serve at a picnic should complement the menu.
Black tea is always popular, but green tea is as delicious both hot and iced. It’s also nice to have a caffeine-free offering, like herbal tea, for caffeine-sensitive guests.
If you don’t have a tea urn, buy bagged tea instead of loose-leaf. And don’t forget the milk, cream, honey, and lemon wedges.
Prepare Food and Drinks
Preparing what you can in advance simplifies the day-of prep.
Here are some tips that will help you:
Prepare desserts a day or two before your event — they will keep just fine in the ref without losing their appeal.
Sandwiches are best made a few hours before transport so that they don’t get soggy or stale. Time is on your side, however, if you choose a sturdy bread or pass on the mayonnaise and serve other condiments separately.
Another trick is to layer wet ingredients, like tomatoes or cucumber, between cheese or lettuce to create a moisture barrier.
Teas and Other Drinks
For hot teas, you’ll need a thermos of hot water, tea bags, or loose-leaf tea and a teapot. Urns are ideal for large picnics — the tea stays hot and guests can serve themselves.
Iced teas can be brewed and chilled the day before.
Alternative beverages can include coffee, cocoa, and mineral water. For adults, a splash of white wine or a fruity prosecco livens up iced tea and punch.
Finally, make plenty of ice the day before the picnic or have cold packs on hand. You can create your own by filling empty plastic bottles three-quarters full and freezing them overnight. Bags of ice for multiple coolers can be purchased at grocery, hardware, or convenience stores.
Pack Everything and Go!
Food safety should be a top priority at your picnic, so gather non-perishable supplies first.
Next, pack refrigerated goodies into sturdy, crush-proof containers and layer them in your basket or cooler. Place absorbent towels between the food containers and the ice to tame condensation. Your sandwiches won’t be soggy, and the towels can do double-duty for clean-up.
While you’re packing, boil water for the thermos unless you have an urn. We recommend carrying drinks in a separate cooler or tote to protect delicate foods.
At the venue, set up your serving table as you would at an indoor tea party, securing the tablecloth with clips, if necessary. Keep foods cool until the last minute, transferring items to serving dishes just before your guests arrive — you have about two hours before perishable items begin to spoil.
Use decorative mesh cloches or food tents to protect foods that aren’t served in covered containers from hungry insects — they’re cheap, reusable and pretty enough not to spoil the aesthetics of your table.
Careful planning is the secret to a practical and lovely presentation!
Ready for a Tea Party Picnic? Let’s Go!
Complex times call for simple pleasures — something Mother Nature provides in abundance.
So, just brew the tea, make the noshes and welcome your guests. She’ll take care of the rest!
A unique and stress-free way to socialize, a tea party picnic is an event your guests won’t soon forget.
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