Outdoor Dining with a DIY Flair
Summer has officially arrived, so its time to get out the fiesta-ware and for some wonderful outdoor dining. In addition to all the party necessities (grill, cocktails, and good family and friends) let's take it to the next level with some creativity and DIY spirit.
Ambiance and Space
Create two separate settings on your deck or patio—one that is casual where people can mingle for appetizers, and a second that contains the formal sit-down dinner area for people to migrate toward as the meal is ready to serve. When you have only a dinner table some people may feel awkward because sitting down around the table feels so formal. This separate space is especially important if your event includes people who don’t know each other. Make the appetizer area open and comfortable so people can mix and match conversations with the person next to them or the whole group, and so that people can stand or sit and not feel awkward. Here are a few other suggestions:
- Find a rustic low table and place a beautiful, season-appropriate table runner on it. We’ve chosen this bright yet subtle flower pattern on a white background (shown above)—perfect for a summer evening! We found some delightful tablecloths and table runners from La Redoute.
- The chairs you choose can set the tone of this area. We’ve left a lot of space around them, but not too much, to indicate people can stand and talk to those sitting. View a modern range of dining tables and chairs from Shop 4 Furniture.
- If you’re having a large party you can make a little card that has potential allergens or indicates if a dish is vegetarian or vegan so people won't need to ask.
- Set up an area for beer, wine, and cocktails. If you have the manpower, have an assigned person making drinks for guests. Choose a specialty drink this person can make. We chose to make blended grapefruit margaritas (see below for recipe) and found that over half of our guests chose this drink. Having a specialty drink is fun, and it can also take the pressure off the guest in choosing their first drink and breeds a sense of welcome and camaraderie into the party.
Foraging for Flowers
It’s summer! That means you might have a garden that is just blooming or there are some beautiful flowers you can find just down the street, or around the local lake, marsh, or wildlife area. My favorite thing to do is pick wild flowers. For this dinner party we chose some from the yard and some from a walk around our neighborhood. And if you’re friends with your neighbors, they won’t mind if you take a blossom or two. This is an easy way to really set the tone of your party. A few well-placed flower arrangements can make all the difference.
Here's how to do it:
- Scrounge around your cupboards and find those vases you haven’t used in months. If you can’t find them, or don’t have any, this is easily remedied. Sift through your recycling and find old beer and wine bottles, or you may have some old Bell jars around. These all work really well as vases.
- Fill the vases full with water.
- Carefully snip full blooms (allow those little ones to come to full fruition) appropriate to the vase you intend to place them in. We chose tiny vases as somewhat of a different choice from the usual. They really popped, and their simplicity made just as much of a statement as a big vase and complicated flower arrangement.
Choose a Dinner Theme
Doing themes is fun because the menu just seems to flow from the original inspiration. American from burgers, Asian from fresh cabbage rolls, Mexican from fajitas, Portuguese from empanadas. We chose Mexican for this dinner. We grilled flank steak to be the main ingredient in a fajita with bean salsa, tomato salsa, and lettuce. We heated the tortillas up and put them in dishware to keep them hot. We then made personal ramekins of baked beans with cheese on top. Delish!
- Make sure you have a big enough table to fit all your guests. The last thing that speaks casual comfort is being squished in at a dinner table.
- Pick out some really colorful place mats. We went with simple cotton light green place mats that fit the mood perfectly.
- Place some of your flower arrangements at the dinner table where appropriate.
- Have the silverware, napkins, and basic condiments out from the beginning.
- Choose something that is seasonal and appropriate.
- Start developing a menu. Give yourself at least a week to mull this over. You may find inspiration comes to you while reading before going to bed, or driving in the car.
- Solidify the menu a few days before the party.
- Start buying produce that needs time to ripen 2-3 days ahead, i.e. avocados.
- Buy the rest of your groceries the day before the party. How many times can one make the mistake of buying the groceries day of? No more. You will be cooking, prepping, and directing the day of. Ensure you have helpers, someone who can run to the grocery store for last minute ingredients, etc.
- Have the appetizers ready to go as soon as the first guest arrives. Make sure to have them prepared 10 minutes before the start of the event.
- Make sure you have someone to greet people as they come in if you’re finishing up food preparation. You should only have easy things to do last because people will want to talk to you in the kitchen, regardless of your appetizer seating area, so be prepared for it.
- Serve dinner 60-90 minutes after the bulk of people have started to arrive. Some guests may not have had lunch in anticipation of a big dinner, and if it starts getting too late people may begin to get anxious. It’s also nice to eat as the sun is setting, not when it’s completely dark.
Relax and Enjoy
People don't expect blue ribbon culinary perfection when they attend a barbecue. So set the tone for your guests by kicking back and having fun. If your guests see that you are happy, it makes it easier for them to have fun as well.Shop 4 Furniture, a web site featuring modern and traditional furniture products. Follow Shop 4 Furniture on Facebook.
Feature image by Christopher Yardin via Flickr.