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Lisa Cavanaugh


Sam Kim
Danica Tamura


Laguna Beach, California

Deep in the midst of 2020’s pandemic social distancing restrictions, model Madison Smetana decided to throw a little outdoor picnic for her boyfriend, Riley Cronin, in their coastal Southern California town of Laguna Beach. “We couldn’t really go into any restaurants because of COVID, so I set up a cute date night for us on the beach,” says Smetana, who says she has always loved setting up tablescapes and hosting gatherings for friends and family. Cronin posted some photos of the charming sandy setup on Instagram, and soon his buddies were clamoring to hire Smetana to set up date nights for them and their girlfriends.

Madison Smetana - Pop-Up Parties

Madison Smetana launched her Beach Picnic Company after creating a special outdoor date for her boyfriend.

"Riley was the one who told me I should turn it into a business,” says Smetana. “At first, I hesitated, because my career was in modeling and film and television production, but I actually ended up really liking the idea.” Now, three years into running The Beach Picnic Company, Smetana and her rapidly expanding team are doing 300 professional picnics a year. “I think people really love the idea of a unique outdoor entertaining experience,” she says. While most of her clients book date nights, proposals, bridesmaids‘ lunches, and engagement parties on the beach, Smetana will curate any kind of outdoor event in a variety of locations. “Anywhere you can feasibly set up a picnic, we will go,” she says. “We have set up in parks and other venues, and we've even done some right in people's backyards, which makes for a really fun, intimate experience."

“I love that classic beach and surf culture, so our styling is very elaborate and colorful but still laid-back and relaxing.”

Producing every project in the open air presents certain challenges. Using public beaches is allowed, but parks and special venues often require permitting. While Southern California has a reliably dry climate, The Beach Picnic Company has contingencies in place for weather. “Winter, especially, can be very unpredictable, and wind and tides can be hazardous, so we carefully monitor the weather conditions, and occasionally we have to reschedule,” says Smetana. “I grew up here on the beach, so I’m very familiar with how it works around here.”

Depending on the size and theme of the party, it can take between an hour to a half-day to set up the picnic. “We did a party of 70 for Google one time, and that took about five hours to set up beforehand.” The Beach Picnic Company provides the entire tablescape experience; all the glassware, tableware, cushions, umbrellas, etc. “We also make all of our flower arrangements in-house,” Smetana says. And while catering was offered originally, she now leaves that to culinary professionals. “We have a few great catering partners in the area that we can recommend to our clients."

Scenic boho-beach aesthetic by Pop-Up Parties using vintage linens and glassware

Using her own collection of vintage treasures, Smetana designs charming outdoor tablescapes for her clients.

After the scene is set, Smetana or one of her colleagues will then greet the client, let them know they will be avail- able for several minutes within the general area, and then provide them with a contact number if they need anything during their two-hour experience. “Once they’re done with their event, we come right back for cleanup.”

To achieve her signature boho-beach aesthetic, Smetana has turned to her own stockpile of vintage glassware and linens. “A lot of what we use is from my own thrifted collection because I love thrifting!” she says. “It’s just something I always did as a hobby, and now that I have the business, I’m able to incorporate all of those pieces I’ve collected into my tablescapes. So, a lot of the items are pre-loved and have a story to them.”

Much of her inspiration for the tablescapes came from growing up in California. “I love that classic beach and surf culture, so our styling is very elaborate and colorful but still laid-back and relaxing.” Customers will also come to her with their own favorite styles and special requests for a customized picnic. “They will ask me ‘Can you incorporate this type of flower because my girlfriend loves them?’ or ‘This is my boyfriend’s favorite color can you do this?’ We collaborate on all those ideas, so people get a really personalized experience.”

delightfull casual-chic beach picnic by Pop-Up Parties

The Beach Picnic Company will host parties at parks, special venues, and even customers' backyards.

The delightfully casual-chic picnics get a lot of attention from passers-by. “We get a good amount of business from other beachgoers because everybody walks up and is so curious,” says Smetana. “We bring our business cards to the beach, and usually, we run out of them by the end of the day.” The Beach Picnic Company has recently launched some logo merchandise, such as beach totes and ball caps, and Smetana says she would love to expand from storage units and have a storefront one day. “Hopefully, we can keep growing,” she says. And why not? Everybody loves a beach picnic.

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