When most of us think of outdoor dining, we envision casual, no-frills meals – burgers, brats, and coolers of cold beer. Backyard barbecues are a summertime staple, but what if you opted for an elegant dinner party under the stars? This past year gave us a few reasons to dress up and celebrate, so why not stash away the paper plates for the night and do it up al fresco?
Set the scene
Lucky for you, the atmosphere outside in the summer is already lovely. Trees are lush and green, flowers bloom, and dusk’s soft light lingers late into the evening. Take it up a notch with beautiful decor and table settings. String white twinkle lights on a porch, pergola, or low-hanging branches, and as dusk sets in, guests will be treated to a glistening scene that makes a simple backyard gathering special. Eating outdoors engages all the senses, so don’t forget about sound. Stream light jazz or acoustic tunes through a Bluetooth speaker if you do not have an outdoor sound system.
Think of crisp white tablecloths, napkins, and a beautiful place setting for an elegant table. While using real silverware, plates and glasses can be worrisome outdoors; they instantly signal a more formal meal. If the thought of champagne flutes shattering on your patio makes you cringe, consider durable plastic barware, and plates today come in designs that look identical to your glass sets. Complete your tablescape with bouquets of fresh flowers and tea light candles, either real or flameless, for added sparkle.
Encourage guests to dress up and consider a theme such as Great Gatsby, Midsummer’s Eve, or a Summer Whites Party. For an interactive element, a wine tasting or game of croquet can quickly get guests mingling.
Plan your menu
Elevating your outdoor meal doesn’t mean you have to put away the grill. Utilizing your gas grill or smoker can make meal preparation and cleanup a breeze and keep you among guests. Salmon, mahi-mahi, and other types of fish, fillets, steaks, or chicken breasts make a gourmet yet simple main dish. Complete your meal with seasonal grilled vegetables and a fresh salad. Surprisingly, many appetizers and desserts can be cooked on a grill and smoker. For a refreshing take on the usual picnic ice cream cone, serve guests a bowl of gelato. A bar cart can be a great place to set wine bottles, buckets of beer, or pitchers of cocktails for guests to self-serve drinks. Add a note of fun and whimsy with pretty containers of straws and additions like cherries or lime slices.
Al fresco dining makes entertaining easy and cleanup convenient, but that doesn’t mean it has to be causal. Treat guests to an elegant night out “outside” this summer and raise a glass to the beauty of open air.
Main Photo of covered outdoor kitchen and patio: Outdoor Kitchen by Kitchen & Bath Gallery.