Two creative, entrepreneurial women who love entertaining and celebrations start businesses to plan and prepare picnics.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
It may come as a surprise to most, but the picnic has an interesting and often complicated international history. In literature and in life, early picnics were planned only by the aristocracy (particularly in France) and only indoors. In the 19th century, the middle classes took a shine to the idea of picnics, but they moved their shared meals outside.
The countryside of England became a most popular place for picnicking, complete with baskets filled with favorite foods for lunch, in the early 20th century. These days, the picnic continues to evolve, and a spread can run the gamut from a romantic, wine-accompanied lunch for two to a fun family gathering with 30 or more picnickers. There’s even a U.S.-designated National Picnic Day, which is April 23.
Thanks to picnic pros, Danielle Mullins, 28, and Autumn Swinkowski, 27, those who want the perfect picnic in and around Oxford and Tupelo in northeast Mississippi now have help.
Tupelo’s Mullins owns Picnics + Poppies; in Oxford, Swinkowski runs Posh Picnic Oxford. The two expert picnic planners spoke with Invitation Magazines about their businesses.
Q: When did you start your picnic business? Is it just you or do you have business partners or staff members?
A: Picnics + Poppies: I started Picnics + Poppies in spring 2021. My husband Emory and I are the two who run the business. He’s been the biggest encourager and has carried and unloaded, with a smile on his face, more than I can keep up with. He’s also built all my tables, so the business would not run without him. I also have three little sisters who help me in the summertime if Emory is out of town.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: Posh Picnic Oxford was started in May 2021. I primarily run the business myself, but I do have a few people who assist me with setup for large picnics.
Q: How did the idea for the business come about?
A: Picnics + Poppies: I’ve always loved celebrating people. Whether it’s a job promotion, becoming a mom, an engagement or simply just celebrating a friendship, I’m the friend who wants to throw a celebration. After COVID, I noticed a yearning of people wanting to get together again. I saw where people came to realize how important it was to slow down and spend time together. I often feel like people want to celebrate others, but may not feel they have the time, creativity, decorations or resources to do it, so I wanted to take the stress out of celebrating and make it accessible to everyone. That’s how it came to be.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: The idea was sparked when I thought about how much people in Oxford already love luxury picnics because of the Grove atmosphere. I thought, why not have a service available like this almost year-round. I didn’t want this to be exactly like the Grove, though. I wanted it to have the feeling you get when you dine at an upscale restaurant except outdoors. I’ve always loved entrepreneurship, and I knew once the idea sparked, I needed to make it a reality. I drew inspiration from some online research and meshed it with my own vision of how I think picnics should look. I love hosting and decorating, so this was the easiest part. Once I gathered items that fit my picnic vision, pictures were taken. I even had some friends model for the pictures. I posted the photos to social media, hoping it would be shown to at least one person who would book a picnic. I ended up booking my first picnic that summer and it was a domino effect. Word began to spread. People from that first picnic actually led to my second and third picnics being booked. I began running ads through social media. Luckily for me, my clients are the best and typically post photos of their events, which leads to more bookings. Through these various bookings, I expanded my maximum of 12-person picnics to picnics for 60+ people.
Q: Do you offer picnics year-round?
A: Picnics + Poppies: We do. Spring and early summer are our busiest times, but indoor picnics in the winter by a fireplace are becoming more and more popular.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: Picnics are offered from Feb. 1 to Nov. 15. I’ve learned the time outside those dates is not ideal picnic weather.
Q: When planning a picnic for a customer, do you plan your own ideas, offer suggestions, do just what the customer wants?
A: Picnics + Poppies: Most people message us through social media or email. I send a price and package list, and we go from there. Some customers know exactly what they want; some give you only colors. Still others say, “Surprise me.” We work with the client to make sure the picnic is geared toward the person they are celebrating so it’s uniquely theirs.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: If someone would like to book a picnic, you can visit our website poshpicnicoxford.com, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on any of our social media pages @poshpicnicoxford. The first thing I do is find out if the picnic is for a certain event, such as an engagement, birthday party, bachelorette party, anniversary date, sorority function, etc. Then I see if the client has something specific in mind. Most of the time, my clients let me have creative freedom on the picnics. I do try to stick with a color theme, if that’s wanted, or I might even throw in something extra that I think would go along with the event, such as a cute banner or special decor.
Q: What was the most unusual picnic you’ve done for a client?
A: Picnics + Poppies: Our most elaborate picnic was for a proposal, and he thought of every detail he wanted, and we made it happen. We had a “Will you marry me?” banner from Kaligraphy, flowers from Seven Acres, a charcuterie board from Queens Reward, and Sun Soaked Media as our photographer/videographer. We had string lights under a gazebo by a lake during a rain. It looked like a fairy tale, and, in case you were wondering, she said “yes.”
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: I’ve done both indoor and outdoor picnics, but clients typically prefer the outdoors if the weather is nice. My most unusual picnic was actually a recent one at a small farm in Tupelo. It was indoors due to cold weather, but I love doing picnics that aren’t my “usual” as well.
Q: What do you provide when someone comes to you for a picnic?
A: Picnics + Poppies: It is a two-hour rental. Each picnic will include a large charcuterie board and a drink for each person. We provide a full setup which consists of a table, floor pillows, blankets, candles, decor, a cake stand, plates, napkins, wine glasses and cutlery. Fresh flowers, s’mores and cupcakes can be added for an additional charge. We offer setups at Queens Reward, which includes your choice of mead or glass-bottled Coca-Cola.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: My basic picnic package comes with a complete rental setup of blanket rugs, solid wood tables, pillows, chargers, plates, silverware, glassware, table decor, flower arch, trash can, phone tripod for pictures, vintage picnic basket and a customizable letter board. After your event is over, we take down everything. All you have to do is come and enjoy; we take care of everything else.
Q: Is this something you plan to continue doing for a long time?
A: Picnics + Poppies: I don’t know if I’ll be doing picnics forever, but I know I will continue to do event planning and celebrating.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: Absolutely. This business is an absolute dream for me, and I don’t see ending it anytime in the foreseeable future.
Q: Are you personally a fan of picnics from your childhood?
A: Picnics + Poppies: I always loved taking a picnic to the park or stopping at a rest stop to picnic on the way to Dollywood or the beach for our family vacations. The love for picnics continued when my husband and I were dating in college and would go to the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge to have a picnic date night. Picnics became extremely special when my husband proposed to me on a picnic at sunset.
A: Posh Picnic Oxford: Yes! My family had a lot of picnics before the Ole Miss baseball games, and I loved them.
Danielle Mullins | Picnics + Poppies: I have a full-time job in communications. My husband and I are the parents of an almost-1-year-old girl. I have five brothers and sisters, have lived internationally twice and I played tennis at ICC. I also stage/design homes, and I recently opened an Etsy shop.
Autumn Swinkowski | Posh Picnic Oxford: I grew up in Water Valley but came to Oxford all the time for things like Ole Miss baseball and the wonderful food. I graduated from Ole Miss in 2018 with a degree in art. I have another business called Ruska Creations, where I sell my art online. I absolutely love doing anything creative.