Picnics are rising in popularity amid the pandemic.
Companies that provide picnic packages - often for special occasions such as wedding anniversaries - say the demand is driven by prohibitions on leisure travel under Covid-19 and a renewed interest in exploring the outdoors.
This has led Singapore residents to seek new experiences locally, such as fancy picnics.
Another draw of catered picnics is how hassle-free they are, compared with doing it yourself.
Picnic providers offer everything from food, drinks and picnic mats; wine and candle-lit dinners; to full-on decor such as fairy lights, helium balloons, message boards, flowers and backdrops.
Prices start from a basic $80 and go up to about $300. Extras can be added - such as professional photography or bartender service - for $200 more.
Love4picnic & Glamping Associate, a firm that offers picnic and glamping services, has seen a 20 per cent rise in demand compared to last year. Its picnic packages start from $80.
Its founder, Ms Sitisarah Shamsudin, says: "Due to the strict measures concerning travel, people did not have the option of going overseas for birthday celebrations or wedding proposals.
"Most of our customers find that picnics are affordable, but at the same time, they can be luxurious, romantic and grand. There is less hassle and you can go to parks without paying for rent at other venues."
Ms Sarah Sathyamoorthi, director of Pie in the Sky Picnics, says business doubled in phase two, when some Covid-19 restrictions were eased, compared with before Covid-19. Their prices start from $160 for two persons.
She says: "We used to see bookings and enquiries mainly on weekends, but now we get bookings for weekdays as well."
Another home-grown company, Picneeds, has laid out about 38 picnics a month since the pandemic, compared to 30 a month before.
The basic Picneeds package costs $190. Its popular Bachelorette: Fling Before The Ring set, which includes a sash, tiara and a helium balloon bouquet, costs $265.
Mrs Lubby Young, 31, stumped out for a basic picnic package from Picneeds as a birthday surprise for her husband earlier this month.
The marketing consultant added some champagne and cold cuts to the mix, and says their picnic looked like "a classic English tea set-up".
"We always go to restaurants for special occasions. This was something different. There is no way I could have done it, other than bringing a picnic mat," says the mother of a five-month-old girl.
Besides, she adds, picnics are inherently Covid-friendly.
"It's socially distanced if you are having a picnic at a park. It sounds public, but you actually have a lot of privacy."
Decadent family feast
It starts raining en route to our picnic at the Botanic Gardens. It is the classic scenario in need of a Plan B, but most picnickers have no back-up protocols and simply run to the nearest gazebo.
Thankfully, the sun is shining feebly after we pick up our picnic basket at the Bee's Knees at The Garage cafe at 50 Cluny Park Road.
It looks more like wheeled luggage, as no mere hand basket is capable of transporting two pizzas, a pasta course, truffle fries, sandwiches, a salad, five drinks and props that I would never think of packing, like cushions and a foldable table.
This Picnic Buzz-ket package (thegarage.sg/bees-knees/picnic-buzzkets), a collaboration with Packdd Singapore, an event services firm, costs $135. It even comes with waterproof sheets to lay beneath the picnic mats so the damp grass does not soak through.
All we have to do at the end is to bundle and deposit the lot at the cafe. With the picnic spread laid out near a pond, the Gardens look like a homage to meadow chic, with black swans and wild chickens wandering around.
The smoked duck aglio olio is moreish, with savoury chunks of duck peppering the garlicky noodles that we slurp up.
There is possibly too much carb-on-carb action, but the six-inch pizzas (with smoked chicken mayo and truffle carbonara flavours) are a hit, especially with my two kids.
The romantic-sounding drinks - lychee calamansi, watermelon mint tea and black basil - are refreshing with their subtle layers of fruit and herbs.
Five of us tuck into this feast at around 4pm, which leaves me too stuffed for dinner.
Briyani at the beach
Which brings me to the question: What kind of beast is a picnic?
Beyond its traditional connotations of finger food eaten outdoors, it can also be a party trying to act casual or simply an excuse for a huge meal of indeterminate timing.
The possibilities of this packed meal format in food-mad Singapore are endless.
Thus I find myself chomping on an unusual picnic dish, chicken briyani, from the Gold Peaknic Set ($48), which can be purchased at Good Old Days (onefabergroup.com/good-old-days), a halal-certified restaurant near Beach Station at Sentosa.
The customisable spread - two mains, three sides and drinks, with add-on options such as macaroni and cheese, and other kids' meals - is enough for three. We even get to keep the big insulated picnic bag.
The tangy yogurt goes well with the tasty chicken, providing a reviving coolness that counters the heat of the afternoon at Siloso beach.
The Ayam Masak Merah, served with rice, is not quite merah (Malay for red), with the sambal sitting to the side of the slightly dry chicken and not slathered all over, as one might expect.
The problem with picnics is they often sound better on paper than in real life. Getting sand in one's sandwiches is no fun.
But the best thing about beach picnics is the sea. It is not the movie-star Mediterranean, but Sentosa's modest green-blue waters impart a feeling of calm, even though the sun is trying to melt my eyelids.
Pinterest-worthy decor with city views
My next picnic is at Bay East Garden in the Rhu Cross area, with views of the Singapore skyline - including the Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay and millions of lights - that make me catch my breath, especially when dusk turns into night.
I get another dopamine hit when I turn away from the big city towards a picnic for two on the lawn by Pie in the Sky Picnics (@pieintheskypicnics on Instagram).
The luxury event planning service provides styled picnics for special occasions such as birthdays and wedding proposals.
I have stepped right inside Pinterest with this picnic, which has been set up with chocolate-box decorations such as fairy lights, candles, bunting and a teepee.
Themed Baby Blues ($160), it comes with a cheese platter ($35) with a doorstop slab of brie and assorted dried fruit, nuts and snacks.
Suddenly, a storm breaks. I grab the cheese and run to a pavilion a few seconds away.
Thanks to picnic services like this which do the grunt work, there is no need for you to pack away or clean anything, even when the rain threatens to wash your picnic away.
Book the sets:
THE BEE'S KNEES AT THE GARAGE
GOOD OLD DAYS
PIE IN THE SKY PICNICS
Plan your own picnic on a budget
Prefer to do it yourself? Here are some expert tips for planning a budget-friendly picnic with the wow factor:
1. PACK RIGHT, PACK LIGHT
Ms Camie Chua, a senior manager in marketing and business development at One Faber Group - which runs restaurants such as Good Old Days in Sentosa and is currently offering picnic sets - says: "Make sure to pack right and light, especially if you are looking to hike up a long distance before reaching your picnic spot.
"While wicker baskets may be charming, they may not always be the most practical option. If possible, do use insulated bags to keep your packed food and fruit at the right temperature."
2. DON'T STRUGGLE WITH THE MAT
Save space for bums, not just food.
Ms Chua says: "Be sure to bring a sturdy picnic mat that is large enough. Picnic-goers often struggle with limited mat space, especially after all the food is laid out on the mat.
"To avoid dealing with a dirty and damaged mat, do not use a thin plastic sheet that tears easily. Using a thick mat also means that you can sit comfortably without being troubled by the uneven ground."
3. LOCATION IS KEY
Mr Khairul Amri Mohd Sidik, co-founder and director of Picneeds, suggests venues such as Marina Barrage and Bay East Garden for Instagrammable views of the central business district.
Besides beaches like East Coast Park and Changi Beach, try more unusual picnic spots like Kent Ridge Park or Labrador Nature Reserve.
He also recommends applying insect repellent as a defence against mosquitoes and sandflies, and to take mini portable fans to beat the humidity.
4. JAZZ UP THE FOOD
Ms Sitisarah Shamsudin, founder of Love4picnic & Glamping Associate, suggests cutting up fruit, such as kiwifruit and pineapple, into pieces shaped like stars, moons and other objects using cookie cutters.
If sandwiches are too boring, try fuss-free kebabs instead, using microwavable satay sold at supermarkets, she suggests. Pasta salad is also easy to prepare by adding olives, onions and cucumber, and is portable - just drizzle with a light lemony dressing and tuck in.
5. SET THE STAGE
Ms Sitisarah suggests spreading out old bed sheets, duvets or oversized towels on the ground for a luxurious feel. Keep decor to a pastel palette and a maximum of three colours to make the colour scheme easy on the eye, she adds.
Try making simple banners by printing out letters and pasting them on cardboard. Tie these decorations between some trees.
For more stories on exploring Singapore, go to the SG Go Where page.