Summer is here, which means it’s time to soak up the sun, and what better way to do that than by hosting a picnic for your care home residents? Mike Hardman, from catering equipment supplier Alliance Online, shares his tips for catering for a large group outdoors.
With weeks of warm days and long summer evenings ahead of us, now is the perfect time to throw a picnic party for your residents in your care home garden. Hosting a picnic is a fantastic way to make the most of the fine weather, and it will ensure your residents get some fresh air, too. But it can take quite a lot of planning and co-ordination to pull it off, especially when you’re hosting a picnic for vulnerable residents. In this post, I’ll share everything you need to bear in mind to make sure your picnic party goes off without a hitch.
Check the weather
You can plan every element of your picnic to perfection, but all that will have been for nothing if a downpour forces you to abandon your plans. So, you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping a very close eye on the forecast in the run up to your picnic. This way, you can throw your party on a day that’s set to be fine, dry, and warm enough for your residents to be sat outside for a couple of hours. Don’t forget to look at the predicted windspeed, too: nothing spoils a picnic faster than a sudden gust of wind blowing your beautifully prepared feast all over the garden.
This is Great Britain, so we can never rule out the possibility of a shower. So, you may want to consider getting a gazebo or other covering for your care home gardens. This will provide some shelter for your set up in the event of rain, and will also offer shade for your residents on days when the sun is very strong. Plus, you’ll be able to use it year after year, so it’s a good investment.
Pick a theme
To add an extra special touch to your picnic, you’ll want to pick a theme. This could be anything you think your residents will enjoy, like a teddy bear’s picnic, a V.E Day party, or a Great British Bake Off themed event. Be sure to choose disposable tableware and accessories that match your chosen theme, and decorate your picnic area using some festive bunting, signage, and other decorations. If you’re in a position to do so, you can also play some thematic music to help set the tone.
Plan your menu
Once you’ve decided on a date and a theme, you’ll want to start planning what foods to serve. Older residents tend to prefer familiar foods so, when in doubt, you can always just serve classic picnic staples, like scotch eggs, cocktail sausages, sandwiches, and little cakes. Not only will these be easy for your diners to handle and eat unaided, but they can be served cold, which makes preparing and serving your picnic much easier.
If certain residents have special dietary requirements, or require food which has been processed or cut into smaller, more manageable pieces, prepare their plates and cover them in plastic wrap, and set them to one side until they’re ready to dine. This will make the serving process as seamless as possible, and ensure everyone's meals remain safe and hygienic while outside.
Set up tables and seating
Even if you have some outdoor tables and chairs, you probably don’t have enough seating to accommodate all of your residents at once. So, it’s likely that you’ll need to provide some additional seating for your picnic. Trestle tables are very handy for this, and they can be arranged to create one long table for a real community feel. In terms of seating, your residents are likely to need supportive chairs with high backs and arm rests, so avoid benches or pop up chairs and use sturdier options. Your table arrangement also needs to be able to accommodate diners in wheelchairs.
If you have a lot of residents in your home, you can always stagger your picnic party across several days. This also allows you to group residents according to their needs and preferences, ensuring everyone has the best possible time.
Serve your picnic
You’ll need to find a way to serve your picnic foods safely and efficiently, so work with your catering team to organise a system where food is prepped indoors and then delivered outside in covered containers or platters. You’ll also need to think about how residents will be served their food: this could involve setting up a buffet table and then getting care staff to help each person serve themselves. Or, if it’s appropriate for the needs and care requirements of your residents, you could place platters of finger food on the tables and encourage them to help themselves.
Hot food can be tricky to pull off during a picnic, especially when you’re catering to a lot of people at once. For simplicity’s sake, it’s often better to avoid serving hot options outside and go for cold finger foods instead. But, if you do decide to serve a few hot dishes, you may want to consider setting up a manned buffet station with a portable chafing dish or soup heater, which will keep your food warm.
Don’t forget about cold drinks, either. You’ll want to ensure your diners have access to plenty of cold water and other soft drinks, as older people can be more susceptible to heat stroke and dehydration in hot weather. So, be sure to have an ice box on hand.
A picnic can be a very fun and stimulating social activity for your residents, and it’s a great way for them to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air when the weather is fine. Take my catering tips on board to ensure that your plans go off without a hitch.