How to Picnic in a City—Even When it’s Raining

April 23, 2015

We tried out our exclusive denim sandwich wrappersflatware set, and food covers on the sidewalk, a fire escape, and a square—because sometimes a hankering for a picnic can’t wait for the weekend (or sunshine).

Our exclusive sandwich wrappers on a picnic like it's never seen before.

There are times for luxurious picnics in meadows, with plaid picnic blankets and rosé and tartines topped with still-cold smoked fish and spring greens. It happens—oh, about once a year—in magazines. The real picnic is usually a less curated affair: The food only kind of works together, there is never enough picnic blanket for everyone, and some necessary utensils are absent. But we think picnics are worth the effort: Food seems to taste better outside, even if it’s melting from the sun.

Shop the Story

So we set out to picnic on a lunch break and get as close to bliss as we could. But we work in Chelsea, where there are no meadows but rather curbs, squares, and fire escapes. Groups of editors (one editor on her own, for the sake of research) set out to one of the three locales, lunched or breakfasted, and learned things you could only learn by doing. The biggest takeaway: A picnic can happen anywhere, in any weather, and it’s worth it.

Here are 5 tips and lessons you need to know before setting out for your own urban picnic:

Team Square's bodega egg and baguette with jam and salted butter; Team Curb's Passover-approved matzo lunch.

1. Sandwiches are good. So are Mason jars.

Sandwiches are the easiest foods to travel with and consume—except maybe matzo, which hardly counts as a lunch, except to Sarah Jampel. Even hot sandwiches, like bodega eggs, held up during Team Square’s 20-block walk to Union Square. 

Liquids and mushes like coffee and yogurt are doable but required more tools and vessels than we’d like to schlep (a thermos, mugs or jars, bowls, spoons). That said, Mason jars are a wise vessel to bring along because they can serve multiple purposes in one outing. Pack granola or other snacks in them. Then, when you’re ready to picnic, eat mushy foods or drink from—or use them as flower vases, if you’re really trying to impress the strangers of your city.

Team Square and Team Curb's sandwich-wrapper-cum-seat.

2. Bring a sandwich wrapper.

Just as some carry a tote bag in case of last-minute grocery shopping, given the impending spring fever, we’d suggest having a sandwich wrapper stashed in your bag too: You never know when you might want to pop (or cop?) a picnic. Some of our teams were rather unprepared for the elements they might experience during their outing: rain and resulting dampness, dirty streets, grates of fire escapes. But if you bring a sandwich wrap, you need little else—and we were not told to say this by our Shop team.

We reason our picnics were exponentially better thanks to the sandwich wrappers: Team Square’s plan was to sit on park benches, but they were wet from the morning’s rain. So, a sandwich wrapper served as a seat—the plastic lining kept dampness out. Team Fire Escape used it as a tablecloth. Team Curb used it as a makeshift table and a seat. We also considered using it as an umbrella. 

More: Okay, you're allowed to use your wrapper for sandwiches too. Here's how.

3. Prepare for an adventure.

Metropolitan areas involve elements that are not a factor when picnicking in nature: You will get stares, you may be the only one doing what you’re doing, you may get change for what some may think is a performance art piece, you may get licked by a passing pup, and said pup may eat some of your food. A lunch break has never been so eventful.

4. It is not romantic.

While we applaud the gumption of going on a “date” on your fire escape, we don’t suggest it. This is not a way to impress anyone. An urban picnic will never be photographed for a quarterly journal. Food falls between the grates. There are spills. There is consumption of food that may have touched the sidewalk (for fewer than five seconds, okay!!?). This is an activity to do with your most trusted colleagues and friends or on your own—i.e., the people who are okay with you double-dipping.

5. But it’s possible—and fun.

Another reason an urban picnic isn’t romantic is because you will be laughing too much to say anything flirtatious or remotely impressive (unless “use my sandwich wrap to move the worm” counts as charming in your book).

Photos by the Food52 editors

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cate Berry
    Cate Berry
  • laurenlocally
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Cate B. April 25, 2015
laurenlocally April 23, 2015
Happiest little fire escape picnic of all time!