When planning a company picnic, as in planning any special event, answer the questions “who, what, when, where?”
Company picnics are designed to be fun, outdoor events that allow company employees and their families to mix and mingle socially in a relaxed setting. From the company’s point of view the picnic events is a service reward and, more importantly, a team building event. The picnic should be structured to encourage employees of all ages to attend with their families. For some age groups this will be more of a challenge than for others. Parents of teenage children will have a more difficult time persuading their children to come to a company picnic unless the parents can explain it to their teenagers that entertainment at the event will be cool and worth sharing.
If the company has less than 45 employees, it will be difficult to stage a picnic. The typical attendance rate is 40% – 50%. This takes into account those who cannot attend due to competing family or social commitments, vacations, etc. If only 25 employees would attend a picnic, even with spouses it becomes difficult to stage games and develop a group dynamic.
Attendance at company picnics has fallen in recent years. For new Canadians a company picnic is unfamiliar and can be intimidating. For more settled employees the picnic may be same-old same-old and boring. Therefore, to be successful the picnic must be planned carefully and designed to appeal to different ages and backgrounds. Few employee social committees have the expertise to pull this off without outside help and a responsible budget.
If the company has more than one factory that normally has it’s own picnic, care must be taken when organizing a company wide event. A separate communication team should be in place to coordinate the news of the picnic to each plant and receive feed back. If a plant schedules it’s annual summer shutdown at the same time as the picnic, few employees from that location will attend. The shutdown has higher priority than the picnic so be prepared to reschedule the picnic.
Attendees at a company picnic can be broken down into three main groups based their level of physical activity. Invitations to the picnic must take into account the levels of activity that each group will enjoy so that the invitations can be crafted to appeal to each group.
a) The go-go group is between the age of 18 & 28 & will enjoy strenuous physical activity.
b) The slow-go group is both younger and older & will enjoy mid-level activity. (Young children fall into this category).
c) The no-go group is older still & will enjoy a relaxed day in the country.
It’s important that senior company executives and their families be present at the picnic. If the picnic is truly to be a team building effort, then all members of the team from the lowest ranking to the highest should be encouraged to be there. More importantly, they should be seen to be there. The president of the company should work the crowd during lunch hour, shake hands with employees, be introduced to their wives and children and smile constantly. Senior executives should play sports on a team, serve food on the buffet line, be dunked in the dunk tank, hand out prizes to winning competitors, and generally act like good hosts. If the company is unionized a shop steward could help cut the cake with the company president. It’s a great photo OP. (picnic pictures should appear in company newsletters, Christmas cards and notices to shareholders). These are important benefits when planning a company picnic.
Entertainment, both active and passive, must appeal to the three levels of physical activity referred to before. The go-go group will enjoy volleyball, soccer, relay races, tug of war and other strenuous activity. The slow-go group will enjoy hiking, cycling, a scavenger hunt, miniature golf or a putting green and other mid-level activity.
Young children will enjoy 3 legged races, obstacle courses, blind mans bluff, pin the tail on a donkey, hitting a piñata, mother daughter races, egg in a spoon races, dinosaur egg (watermelon) hunts, arts and crafts, face painting.
Balloon sculptures, inflatable bounce castles, petting zoos and pony rides are always popular.
The no-go group will enjoy wagon rides, chatting with colleagues, reading, and sitting while enjoying the scenery and the relaxed day. Plan extra chairs in the shade for this group. Displays of monster kites, tethered hot air balloons, fire trucks, and rescue dogs are novel.
For all groups the events require supervision and coordination; young children require the most. Make sure that older children are not on the same inflatable toy at the same time as young children. Otherwise, injuries are certain.
Passive entertainment at a picnic is best if drawn from the 19th Century. It should be fun but should also draw the audience together as a group. Singers who encourage sing along participation, stilt walkers, comic magicians who focus on children, jugglers, mimes and clowns are effective. Experiment with a limbo competition, or a Hawaiian dance or jitterbug display that induces audience participation. Audiences can be seated in concentric half moons made of hay bales.
One of the best team builders is the dunk tank. For this to be effective the company president or the VP of HR should be dunked first. However, to build suspense the “victim” must be dressed in a 3 piece business suit. (get one from the Sally Ann). Make a show of how cold the water is. Add a few ice cubes just before the dunking starts when all can see them added. (Make sure the dunk tank water is actually warm, however, and that the ice cubes are just for show).
Prizes are no longer just for competition winners. It’s now expected that everyone who participates in a competition gets a prize. These need not be expensive to be effective. The best prizes are handy and monogrammed with the company logo and the date of the picnic: Small Swiss army knives, key chain flashlights, etc.
The picnic menu can be an attraction or a disaster. To be the former it must be fun. Start by dealing with the don’ts:
a) Don’t serve pork sausage or any other pork product at a picnic in the GTA.
b) Don’t serve a 25 cent hotdog to an active adult male and expect them to be satisfied.
c) Don’t forget that vegetarians/vegans can be 20% of a guest list. Be creative with salads other than potato/pasta.
d) Don’t serve pop to children; it can make them hyper active.
e) Don’t hand out beverages in large bottles. They get warm before they get empty.
f) Don’t forget fresh fruit and vegetables of the season: e.g. strawberries in June, corn on the cob in August.
g) Don’t forget dessert. Ice cold watermelon is great on a hot day.
h) Don’t serve coffee; it’s simply not popular at a picnic
i) Don’t serve salty popcorn; your guests are already thirsty enough
Start with cold drinks and nibbles from the minute that guests arrive. Schedule an ice cream truck for the later stage of the picnic. Allow guests to get into the event and have some fun before food service. On the other hand, don’t delay food service so long that guests are starving.
Many companies now invite food trucks to their picnic in addition to a caterer to provide most of the food and to coordinate overall food service. Food trucks are fun and have great menus. But, they serve food slowly and are accustomed to long lineups at their service window. Limit the menu served by each food truck and have at least 2 trucks with different menus per 100 guests.
There are 3 options for the season of the year to host a company picnic: spring, summer, fall. There are a further 3 options for the day of the week to host a picnic: Saturday, Sunday, a holiday Monday. Of these, the very best days to hold the picnic are the Sundays during the May 24 and Labour Day long weekends. On both of these Sundays kids are in school and the competition from other social events such as soccer, weddings, vacations, summer camp, cottage getaways, etc. is at a minimum. Summer plant closings are not a factor and the weather is generally perfect for a picnic. Best of all, attendees at a Sunday picnic know that there is no work the next day and they can relax that much more at the event. To secure a venue for these prime dates, book early!!
Start the picnic no later than 11:00 a.m. This gives time for everyone to find the picnic location, park and make their way to the picnic area. If the picnic is held in a conservation area, for example, with multiple pavilions this may take time. Greet guests with nibbles & cold drinks for 90 minutes while games and other entertainment get underway. This allows guests to ease them selves into the picnic with no pressure to do anything except chill & relax. Lunch should be underway by 12:30 and should wrap up by 2:30. This allows for a casual visit rather than a stampede to the food service. It also allows those who are in a competition to enjoy their game rather than worry about lunch. Cold drinks should continue all afternoon and the picnic should end by 4:00 p.m. at the latest. Speeches, presentations and gifts, if any, should be done no later than 1:30 p.m. Guests will start to drift home by 2:30 p.m.
Guests should know that there is a rain date in the event of bad weather. Make sure that there is a means of communicating by e-mail with everyone who has signed up for the picnic. Notice of postponement must go out at least 24 hours before the event.
The picnic location will be a function of it’s size and features. Few parks can or will accommodate a group of 2000. Parking, traffic, washrooms, ease of access are all important considerations. If the picnic is for a company with regional operations, locate the picnic in a spot central to the region. Decide how valuable the picnic is to team building. For example, if the picnic will be held where there is swimming or a splash pool, expect most families with young children to spend the day there, away from the main body of the guests. If many of the guests are slow go or no go, look for a venue with plenty of trees for shade or a hike. If many of the guests are go go, look for soccer fields, baseball diamonds and volley ball nets.
Don’t expect expected attendees to travel far or out of their comfort zone for a picnic. Years ago it might have been considered fun to hold a picnic on a farm in the country. Not so likely now. Distances, unfamiliarity with country life and lack of interest in Ontario’s rural past will dim attendance at a farm picnic.
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