The Big Business of Picnics

Thanks to trends on social media, the once humble picnic is now in its glow-up phase.

By Phoebe Gibson April 5, 2023 Published in the Spring 2023 issue of Houstonia Magazine

An elaborately set table with comfy throw pillows sets the stage for a luxury Fancy Picnics event. 

Picture a warehouse lined with dozens or even hundreds of fluffy pillows, each row arranged by varying shades of aesthetically-pleasing hues. Around you, candles, dried flowers, and furniture of all styles. Welcome to the world of Houston’s luxury picnics. 

Chances are you’ve encountered a luxury picnic at one of the city’s many parks or have eyed one while scrolling on social media. Often booked for birthdays, proposals, and other special occasions, these upscale gatherings are more than a trendy photo op. For the passionate event planners behind the scenes, the business of luxury picnics is about enjoying Houston in a new way, making memories with loved ones, and doing it all in a stylish, curated space of your choice. “It is an experience by itself,” says Karen Garcia, owner of Styled Picnics.

Instagram-ready spread by Styled Picnics.

Houston’s luxury picnic scene largely gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shuttered restaurants and limited gatherings unexpectedly led to a boon for the picnic business; it was the turning point that practically forced people outdoors and showed luxury picnic business owners their ventures could be full-time, sustainable careers. Garcia of Styled Picnics was a senior at the University of Houston studying hotel and restaurant management when she launched her enterprise in July 2020. At the time, she noticed elevated picnics were starting to take off, so she decided to give it a shot. Garcia put together a picnic in the corner of her backyard, shared the photo on social media, and, soon enough, bookings rolled in. Now, she runs Styled Picnics alongside a small team, has an office and a warehouse for storage, and manages an intimate event venue, the Styled Place.

An Instagram-ready spread by Picnic Perfect.

Longtime friends and college students Adam Smith and Dominique Silva dreamed up Picnic Perfect amidst the pandemic, as well. Smith was “so astounded” by the first luxury picnic he ever encountered while on a trip to Malibu, California. Seeing that the trend was all over TikTok, the duo decided to try out the business idea for themselves. And with Valentine’s Day—the biggest holiday for luxury picnic outings—around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been better.

Aesthetics are top of mind for luxe picnics, so it only makes sense that Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest are some of the primary platforms for marketing the luxury picnic experience. While the vibes alone make these events prime content for users, Instagram is actually ideal for small businesses, says Smith. “Instagram is shifting in its nature,” he said. “People still use it for social or personal use, but it’s now such a great small business platform and e-commerce site.” 

As Houston’s luxury picnic scene continues to pick up the pace, owners say they’re able to stay in their own lane for the most part, focusing on their clients and their individual styles and offerings. “Even though there is more and more competition, there are so many clients to go around,” Smith says. 

Long before the pandemic inadvertently catapulted picnicking to a business, Brenda Vilchis had already been dreaming and scheming of a way to bring Houstonians an outdoor experience unlike anything else. When Vilchis started Fancy Picnics in 2019, she recalled, “There was nothing similar to this.” 

Initially, Vilchis focused on picnic packages geared toward couples and dates, but over time picnic goers began seeking even more extravagant arrangements to celebrate everything from birthday gatherings and baby showers to proposals and bachelorette parties. Now, Fancy Picnics is a one-stop shop for posh picnics, seating upward of 52 guests; offering 18 different themes like boho chic, romantic, and a Santorini-inspired set; and even offering separate rentals like marquee letters, a pink ball pit, and a Casablanca-inspired bounce castle.  

“It’s easy to look at a picture of a picnic online and think, ‘Oh, I can recreate that,’” said Silva of Picnic Perfect. But each plush picnic company is doing more than creating something pretty to look at. For Picnic Perfect, it’s all about creating a lovely set that feels elegant and approachable at the same time. Thoughtful additions include card and board games, a Polaroid camera rental, and an acrylic paint set. For Fancy Picnics, Vilchis says her special touch is making everything “as extra as possible.” Think pops of color and pattern, cascades of balloons, and customized photo backdrops.

In all, Houston’s luxury picnic enterprises are an opportunity to experience the city in an entirely different way, immersed in nature (often adjacent to the skyline, of course) and surrounded by loved ones and food from local restaurants. Eating out is already one of Houston’s hobbies. Now we get to do it in style. 

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