Summer outdoor dining can be as simple as a hot dog on a paper plate or as fancy as filet mignon on your best china. But most of us dine al fresco somewhere in between. To make every outdoor dining experience a memorable one here’s what you need to know…
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This is a huge post! Think of it as the definitive source for outdoor dining!
OUTDOOR DINING BASICS
Summer can be perfect for getting outside and dining al fresco. Formal or casual, summer is the time for no-rules dining. But it does help to know lots of savvy tips and tricks to make every outdoor dining experience a great one!
Set a pretty table. It can be very simple or quite elegant. But make that extra effort to sit down to a table worthy of outdoor dining!
Pick a shady spot! Our patio has a huge tree that shades us in the evening. Find that perfect shady outdoor spot in your home and set up an outdoor table.
10 PRACTICAL TIPS FOR OUTDOOR DINING
- Bugs and insects can be a problem so make sure you use a natural citronella candle around your table. Also, bunches of mint, marigolds, and rosemary will help to keep those pesky critters at bay.
- An outdoor fan is a great accessory to every outdoor summer occasion! A gentle breeze is just the thing to keep family and guests cool. And bugs can’t fly in a breezy area. Win/win!
- Use trays to tote tableware and dinner items to your table. And use them for clean-up too!
- Set up “stations” for drinks and appetizers. I roll the bar cart from out dining room outside for an extra serving space. I’ve also used the potting bench on our porch for both drinks and desserts.
- If you are grilling, keep the grill away from the eating area. Smoke is not invited to your table! But that wonderful smoky aroma is! It adds to the ambiance!
- Insulated ice buckets and/or coolers are a great place to stash extra ice if you are entertaining a crowd. We get an extra bag of ice at our grocers and keep it on hand for the times we dine outdoors.
- ALWAYS say YES to anyone who wants to help!
- Plan activities for all age groups like lawn games or get out a small splash pool for little ones. We have spectacular firefly displays every summer evening. Natures best entertainment!
- Use lots of lanterns, glass hurricanes, and other mood lighting
- Put together a summer playlist of fun, upbeat music. Play on a wireless portable Bluetooth speaker. We have the one below and love it!
I like to think of dining outdoors and al fresco tablescapes like an extension of my kitchen table. To set a pretty outdoor table use the same rules for setting a table inside…
- Make it personal. ALWAYS set a table, indoor or out, that looks like YOU!
- Remember to set a table on a porch if you have one. An intimate breakfast or tea party is an event on the porch!
- Keep what you need on hand. Don’t keep summer outdoor dining items in hard to access places in your home.
- Create a table to set the mood. Summer tables most often are casual but don’t forget how pretty a fancy outdoor table looks too for special occasions.
- Please don’t use anything you would morn over should it break. Accidents happen and they will! Almost any tableware in my home goes outdoors but my Nani’s wedding crystal.
AL FRESCO TABLEWARE
Now, let’s talk about the fun stuff of a summer outdoor table!
USING YOUR INDOOR DISHES
Most often I use any of my dish stash for outdoor dining! Go ahead and create a beautiful table to dine al fresco just like you would set your table indoors.
It is a bit more work toting all the dishes outside and back in so I use big trays, plastic dishpans (my favorite) or even a small laundry basket when I set a table outside.
One thing to keep in mind is the weather. We live in an area where thunderstorms and strong breezes are a common problem. So I’m careful not to use things like delicate stemware. I have chunky hobnail glasses on chunky bases that work fine outdoors!
My rule of thumb… the less food I actually prepare the more detailed the table. In other words, if I’m not doing all the cooking or just having appetizers etc. the more time I spend on the table. And usually use dishes from my dish closet!
MELAMINE AND PLASTICWARE FOR OUTDOOR DINING
Plastic dishes are no longer “PLASTIC” dishes! They are gorgeous and trendy and just perfect for outdoor dining!
They come in almost any color and design you can think of! Now many melamine and plastic table items can go right into dishwasher safe!
I started collecting my plastic dishware collection a few summers ago and keep adding to it a little at a time! I collect red, white and blue melamine. I especially love blue and white for outdoor dining! Just a personal preference!
Aren’t these bamboo bowls cute! Bamboo is a great unbreakable material for outdoor dining too! You can see my KICKED UP CHEX MIX HERE. It’s a real favorite!
UNBREAKABLE DRINKING GLASSES
Plastic and acrylic drinkware are perfect for outdoor dining! No worrying about broken glass! These glasses are so much better for the environment than disposable cups! And they are uber kid friendly!
From clear to tinted, there are so many styles to choose from!
The acrylic stem wine glasses above have an upscale and oh, so pretty look! And they are monogrammed! We love monograms!!!! And we don’t just use our acrylic stems outdoors. We often serve wine in them when we are entertaining indoors too!
MY FAVORITE OUTDOOR DINING FLATWARE
To say I love pretty, sturdy forks, knives, and spoons for outdoor dining is a huge understatement!
My favorite are ones with colorful plastic handles. I mix and match the handles to work with the colors in my table.
Paper products, like unbreakable dinnerware, has come a long, long way! When thinking about outdoor dining using paper plates, bowls, cups, and napkins is absolutely the easiest way to go!
Paper products are light and totable and easy to clean-up. But the downside is they are not reusable and not very eco- friendly!
My favorite way to use paper is cocktail napkins! Like the fun blue and white octopus napkins above, cocktail napkins come in almost every color and design you can think of! Because of this, they are easy to coordinate with your outdoor table.
I keep a stash of pretty paper cocktail napkins contained in plastic sandwich bags and filed upright in a small plastic basket! This is such an easy way to store them so they don’t get wrinkled.
I think using real cloth linens on an outdoor table elevates the occasion from picnic to outdoor dining!
Use what you would on your table inside.
I tend to use runners, placemats and napkins. They are my favorite three! And I gravitate to the same colors as my dinnerware and flatware!
I think lanterns are the best way to go when dining outdoors. They are pretty and reflect the light within. But the biggest advantage is a lantern protects the candle within from the wind!
Modern glass hurricane candleholders work beautifully too. They work with any al fresco table!
How about using different size ball jars with sand in the bottom and a pretty candle? Inexpensive lantern! And so so pretty! You can run different size jars down the center of a table!
Also, think of adding overhead light. Patio party lights are so popular. How about hanging ball jars with votives or fairy lights from the trees above a table. Magical!
SUMMER OUTDOOR DINING CENTERPIECES
This is my sweet spot! I adore summer flowers picked from the garden! If you have flowers in pots this is the most wonderful way to use them.
I like to repeat flowers in small containers down the center of an outdoor table! They look extra pretty!
My rule of thumb about centerpieces is to keep a centerpiece simple! And no matter the outdoor dining occasion do add something pretty to the center of your table!
Here are some simple centerpiece ideas…
- tiny pots of succulents
- bowls of fruit
- herbs in ball jars
- shells and beachy items
- stacks of small dishes
THE BEST SUMMER NAPKIN FOLDS
I think a napkin folded in a stylish design makes outdoor dining a very special event! And it’s so so easy!
You can even fold paper napkins into fun designs.
Here are my favorite three summery napkin folds HERE.
MAKE A PLAN “B”
Outdoor dining is always subject to Mother Nature unless you live in an area that is not affected by the weather!
Here at StoneGable, the weather is always a consideration. Wind and thunderstorms reign supreme in the summer evenings!
So I always have one eye on the weather and a plan to move indoors at a moments notice!
WHAT TO DRINK
Hands down my favorite way to serve a crowd when we are eating outside is to use a drink dispenser!
Even if just our family is dining outdoors I often fill up a dispenser with water infused with what fruit and herbs I have on hand!
Make sure to have extra ice! Outdoor dining is thirsty work! Keep bottled beverages on ice to keep them frosty cool!
I use a big hammered metal salad bowl to keep white wine chilled. In the summer even red wine needs a little bit of ice to keep is from getting too warm!
I often pull out the bar cart from the dining room and use it as a drink station on the patio!
Creating a drink station for any outdoor dining experience is a smart idea! It adds a bit of class and sass to the evening or event! And is a popular gathering spot for conversation.
And I love a drink station because it is “self-serve”.
WHAT TO EAT
I think you can’t beat grilling when it comes to eating outside! The smoke, cooking on a grill and that great char flavor all adds to the outdoor dining experience!
Plan out a few amazing no-fail outdoor dining menus and perfect them. Make them simple and easy!
Here’s one of my favorite…
- GRILLED CHICKEN WITH MAGIC RUB
- GRILLED VEGETABLES WITH BASIL AND BALSAMIC DRESSING
- CUCUMBER SALAD
- FRUIT GALETTE
Prep and make as much as you can ahead of time.
My very favorite way to serve an appetizer in using a tiered tray. I get deli and grocery store goodies and create a fabulous vertical cheese board masterpiece. It is SO SIMPLE! And space saving! Everyone loves this unusual way to serve nibbles!
I often buy deli food and serve it too! The easier the better! You want to participate in all the fun, right?
ALWAYS… ALWAYS SAY YES if someone wants to bring something to the party or lend a helping hand! Most people love to help!
Dining outdoors should be one of life’s beautiful pleasures! Have fun creating tables and menus and memories! And enjoy the outdoor pleasures of summer!