5 tips from a caterer to pack a picnic for Chicago summer concerts

5 tips from a caterer to pack a picnic for Chicago summer concerts
Ravinia Concert Picnic Illinois

Chicago’s outdoor summer concert season is in full swing. 

Venues like Ravinia in Highland Park, the Morton Arboretum in Lisle and Arranmore Farms in Oswego, Illinois, offer some of the best musical selections of the summer.

But what evening under the stars is complete without a picnic? Even though most Chicago-area music venues now offer in-house or local catering options, packing your own picnic dinner is sure to impress your friends.

Whether you want an elegant affair or something simple, there's definitely a right way to plan your perfect picnic. Caterer Barbara Gilleece, owner of highly rated Barbara’s Elegant Touch Staffing in Downers Grove, Illinois, offers five pro tips:

1. Keep it simple

Packing too much for any picnic can only lead to trouble. Heavy coolers and picnic baskets that must be carried long distances from the parking lot are no way to start your night.

“Consider a menu that doesn't require a lot of silverware and plates,” Gilleece says. “I’d really just stick with cold cuts, cheeses, a fresh baguette and a few condiments. You might also toss in some veggies and dips and other finger foods and a couple nice bottles of light wine."

2. Class it up

If you’re the kind of person who just can’t resist the urge to get fancy, Gilleece suggests carting along a small fold-up table complete with a table cloth and a bucket for your wine and other chilled beverages. A small vase with fresh-cut flowers is another option to beautify your outdoor tablescape.

3. Bug off

Most outdoor concert venues around Chicago do a good job of keeping the bugs at bay by spraying all summer. However, be sure to pack a few citronella candles and a can of bug spray just in case, Gilleece says. Just make sure to step away from open food containers when applying. No one likes DEET-flavored dip.

4. What about dessert?

Bringing along the right dessert can be tricky, Gilleece says. Most sweets require a consistent source of refrigeration to keep their consistency, and Chicago's summer heat makes this difficult.

“A nice fruit salad with watermelon and other summer melons is perfect," she says. "I’d probably stay away from anything with frosting or cream unless you’ve got a really good way of keeping it cool.”

5. Quick cleanup

For easy cleanup, Gilleece suggests packing wet wipes and a full roll of paper towel for any major spills. Bring along a couple of  plastic garbage bags, as well. You never know how far you will be from the nearest trash can at the end of a long night.