The midnight picnic was held in a neighborhood whose other residents viewed the outdoors as a dangerous space between house and car, full of gnats, bats and muggers. So, naturally, a worried resident called the police to report strange, flickering lights. The police came and discovered that the only thing being burgled was the icebox.

Ah, the perils of creative entertaining. It had seemed such a brilliant way to escape the standard afternoon event of fried chicken, stuffed eggs and ants: a showing of the movie "Picnic," followed by a midnight meal al fresco. And though the guests were amused at being mistaken for a burglary ring, there are other, less dramatic ways to vary the summer picnic.

No one is likely to call the police--or indeed even be up--if you invite your friends to a Sunday picnic breakfast. Choose a local park, since no one wants to drive for miles on an empty stomach, and invite everyone for 11 a.m.

If peaches are in season, serve half peaches in glasses of champagne, or make Bellinis (fresh peach juice and champagne). If it's too early for peaches, pop in a few strawberries. Have a basket of croissants, butter, a large bowl of unhulled strawberries, slices of melon wrapped in country ham--finger food all--and Thermoses of coffee and tea with a jug of milk and a bowl of sugar. Bring enough blankets for everyone to lie on--after all, Sunday is a day to sleep late. And so that no one will suffer Sunday withdrawal symptoms, provide four or five copies of the Sunday papers.

You could also have a picnic tea, held in a park with a fairly flat terrain so that you could set up a croquet set or badminton game. Or, if you'd like to be more adventurous, cruise the nearby countryside for an appropriate meadow and ask the owner for permission to use it. When the last ball has hit the stake and the shuttlecock is at rest, set out sherry and biscuits, Thermoses of tea with milk, lemon and sugar, crustless sandwiches of watercress, cucumber, ham or chicken--whatever filling takes your fancy--and a rich, luscious cake.

A berrying picnic is a return to childhood and the meal should come first and the berries later, since no one can resist picking one for the basket and one for the mouth. If you don't have your own blueberry or strawberry patch, you can pay to pick in others' plots.

To find farms in Virginia which let you pick your own berries, send a stamped self-addressed envelope with your request to The Berry and Vegetable Guide, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, Va. 23209.

Copies of the pick-your-own/farm market leaflets for Maryland will be available at county libraries, as well as through the D.C. library system. Inquire at the desk or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to P.Y.O. Directories, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Annapolis, Md. 21401.

Nor should we neglect romance. One of the nicest picnics possible is for two people who are in love to rent a canoe and spend the day drifting down the river staring dreamily at each other. (A canoe is no place to do more than stare.)

Fletcher's Boathouse, 4940 Canal Rd. NW. (244-0461), rents canoes for $4 an hour between 9 a.m. and 7:15 p.m. Various caterers and take-out shops were asked to suggest picnics for two, bearing in mind that the food should be easy to eat--no whacking or cutting that could overturn a canoe. (Their ideas and prices in accompanying box.)

A truly old-fashioned picnic is not a picnic at all, since the word originally meant contributions by each person: either of food or entertainment.

"A Pic-Nic Supper," The Times of London reported in 1802, "consists of a variety of dishes. The Subscribers to the entertainment have a bill of fare presented to them with a number against each dish. The lot which he draws obliges him to furnish the dish marked against it, which he either takes with him in his carriage, or sends by a servant."

Not a bad idea at a time when prices are high and purses are low. Get a contribution from each of your Pic-Nic people for wine, beer or champagne. Assign everyone a dish, place a cloth on the floor of your air-conditioned living room and enjoy an original, ant-less Pic-Nic.