Everything You Need to Host a Chic Fall Picnic

Madeline Picnic Spread

Photo: Tim Howard/Madeline Picnic Co.

It’s hard to believe that September is already halfway over, and that morning chill you feel when you first step outside is a sobering reminder that summer is approaching its end. Eke out the last few weeks of the season by continuing to enjoy a timeless summer tradition: packing a picnic.

We talked to Madeline McLean, owner of Southampton-based Madeline Picnic Co., who champions al fresco dining long after the crowds have cleared the beaches—and has the tips and tricks to back it up. Our takeaway? Tweak your seasonal picnic plan like you tweak your wardrobe: a few more layers, some richer accents, and pieces that marry function and style.

1. Leave the basket behind.
Romantic wicker baskets may be the classic choice, but going with a more practical vessel for packing your picnic can cut down on hassle and bulk. McLean loves laminated burlap totes—rustic and chic on the outside and plastic-lined on the inside, they’re easier to store than unwieldy baskets, can take a spill, and help insulate hot or cold foods.

Planet Eco Bags

Photo: Courtesy of PlanetEcoBags

PlanetEcoBags All Natural Laminated Jute Bag, $6.21; at Etsy

2. Bulk up your blanket.
While you might have gotten away with a big beach towel or a light throw for sunny, high-summer picnicking, the first signs of dewy fall weather call for a heavier-duty foundation. Choose a blanket that is reinforced with a waterproof bottom, like Pendleton’s nylon-backed take on its timeless plaid-wool style.

Pendelton Roll-Up Blanket

Photo: Courtesy of Pendelton

Pendelton Roll-up Blanket, $129; at Pendelton

3. Serve warm soup.
“A great way to bridge the late-summer/early-fall hump is to make a seasonal vegetable soup and pack it in a thermos for your fresh-air meal,” says the Hamptons-based chef. “Bring along a few mugs. When the weather gets crisp, the coziness of the warm soup is the perfect distraction—and doubles as a hand warmer!”

Heritage Plaid Thermos

Photo: Courtesy of Paper Source

Heritage Plaid Vacuum Bottle, $34.95; at Paper Source

4. Ditch the disposable serveware.
“In the summer, we use eco-friendly paper containers and napkins, but I like the idea of upping the ante for a lush fall meal by substituting silver cutlery and real ceramic plates,” says McLean. To make sure everything is packed tightly and safely in your bag, use reusable linens to layer between the plates and wrap the forks and knives. “My favorite are MyDrap’s disposable, 100-percent cotton style, which come in a stunning array of colors and tear off a roll much like paper towels.”

MyDrap Cotton Napkin

Photo: Courtesy of MyDrap

MyDrap Blue Vichy Cotton Printed Luncheon Napkin, $30; at MyDrap

5. Drink something with more depth.
“We love to pair ice-cold rosé with our summer picnic, but in the fall, look for something with a little more depth, such as hard ciders—Wölffer Estate’s No. 139 is a favorite—a dry Beaujolais Nouveau or Moscato D’Asti, a lightly sparkling, Northern Italian white,” suggests McLean. Add GoVino plastic wine glasses, and you’re ready for a festive al fresco feast.

Govino Glasses

Photo: Courtesy of Govino

Govino Dishwasher Safe Wine Glass, four for $22.95; at Govino