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A lavish, pastel-colored picnic spread on the beach. Jillian Braga/Little Palm Picnics and Events

Beach Cabanas, Bouquet Bars: Inside Boston’s Luxury Picnic Scene

Meet the women entrepreneurs behind the city’s growing posh picnic industry

For Jillian Braga, owner of Little Palm Picnics and Events, it all started with a dozen solid wood, 8-foot-long tables made by her uncle, a hobbyist woodworker. When she first began using the tables to organize Instagrammable picnics for her friends and family, Braga never predicted that she would arrange hundreds of picnics on them, celebrating bachelorette parties and baby showers with artfully arranged charcuterie boards, on-theme placemats, and napkin ring holders at each place setting.

Picnics have come a long way from saran-wrapped sandwiches and plastic bottles of water. Glamorous picnics, complete with cloth napkins, floral arrangements, glassware, and curated color schemes have become a cottage industry in Boston (and elsewhere), providing women entrepreneurs with the creativity and flexibility to launch their own businesses. In the often high-stress event industry, luxury picnics are a more approachable, relaxed way to break into the business.

“Like many other small hobby businesses, it started during COVID,” says Braga. During the pandemic, she was an ambulance EMT responding to 9-1-1 calls. When she became pregnant the job was too high risk and she transitioned to a remote job within the same department. During the summer of 2021, she organized a few picnics for friends, and at their encouragement, posted about it on Instagram.

“Within one day of posting it, I had over 400 messages of people who wanted me to do this for them,” says Braga. “And I called my husband, I was like, I just made a mistake. I was still working at the time, I hadn’t left my job yet.”

Here’s how it works: customers submit an online booking request by choosing the number of people at their event, the date and time, and selecting add-ons like a beach cabana, a beverage cart, or a s’mores kit. They pay a deposit and then connect with Braga on further details including food selection and color scheme. Customers can request a spot (though it’s up to Braga’s discretion to assess the viability) or she can recommend popular beaches and parks. Bookings generally start at $500 for a two-hour picnic with five to six people, although there’s a separate proposal package for two lovebirds. Braga now works full time on the business and she’ll be trialing Little Palm’s expansion to Marco Island, Florida this December.

Pink and white pillows spread around a low light wooden table with food and drink displayed on top.
A lush spread from Pop-Up Picnics.
Pop-Up Picnics

Prior to starting Pop-Up Picnics, college friends Alissa Hohenberger and Chenoa Capasso studied business and thought pragmatically about launching a side hustle that would allow them to be creative and entrepreneurial while also maintaining their 9-to-5s. In 2022, they launched their luxury picnic company. Just like Braga, they unexpectedly tapped into an insatiable appetite for photogenic outdoor gatherings. Both companies are nearly fully booked for the summer. Pop-Up Picnics is scheduled for two to five bookings every summer weekend; Little Palm is scheduled for four to eight picnics every weekend.

Food is a central piece of the picnic experience. Hohenberger and Capasso primarily work with local food businesses such as Blackbird Doughnuts, BoardsbyMo, and Chic Cheese Chick, ordering charcuterie and brunch boards or cupcakes and donuts depending on each customer’s preferences. They also offer pre-packed baskets for customers looking for something a little less expensive than a full-scale picnic. Braga offers similar food options, but she orders the supplies from wholesale stores like BJs and Costco and creates the boards herself in a certified food-safe kitchen. Customers can — and often do — bring their own food. Braga recalls several memorable picnics when clients brought whole lobsters to eat on the beach.

But it hasn’t all been artful napkin folding and balloon staging. Braga says her biggest challenge was figuring out what permits were required at each location. On the Cape Cod National Seashore, only a maximum of 10 chairs and two tables is allowed. At the same time, Larz Anderson Park in Brookline requires a certificate of insurance for any catering vendors. “A big learning curve for us was learning rules for every single town that we go to frequently, which at this point is every single town in Cape Cod,” says Braga. “We had to navigate Boston as well, which was not the easiest experience.”

One of Braga’s largest picnics was in the spring when she hosted a corporate event for a company with staff split between Boston and Greece. The Greek team flew in for an all-out team-building picnic with more than 60 guests in attendance. For the event, Braga partnered with many other small businesses to include a bouquet bar, a cotton candy cart, a bounce house, and more on-site. “It was just so rewarding,” she says. “People are using my company to have their experience of New England.”

These soirees aren’t just for adults. Hohenberger and Capasso fondly recall a princess-themed fourth birthday party they threw where all the guests wore flower crowns and sipped on juice pouches.

These picnics are a fabulous way to upgrade an outdoor event celebration, but the industry has also served as a gateway for female business owners looking for a creative and flexible gig. It allows Braga to plan around her child’s schedule and Hohenberger and Capasso to build their dream event empire while paying their rent with their traditional jobs, Capasso is a full-time nanny and Hohenberger is a media planner. Braga says the profits from the business this year will be more than double the income she had as an EMT. Hohenberger and Capasso would ultimately like to grow into a larger-scale, full-time events business that does more than just picnics.

“I’m in the corporate world and it doesn’t always feel like there’s enough space for women,” says Hohenberger. “I feel like women are now deciding we’re going to make our own space, and we’re going to make our own businesses and meet our own path.” It doesn’t hurt that their path is lined with flower arrangements and matcha cheesecake donuts.

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