Three Steps to the Ultimate Al Fresco Dinner Party
Spending summer nights on your patio with some café lights and fresh salads sounds like something straight out of HGTV – but it can be your reality, too!
If you’re dreaming of dinner under the stars with a glass of wine in hand, an al fresco dinner party can do the trick.
If you’re wondering what al fresco dining is, you’re not alone. It’s actually simpler than it sounds. Al fresco dining is essentially having a meal outdoors, but it tends to be casual and more of a party atmosphere. While an outdoor dinner party may feel more casual, there are a few things to consider if you pop open that bottle of wine.
Table and Seating
Rule number one of outdoor dining – you need somewhere to dine.
Consider getting a wood patio table with coordinating benches or chairs. This keeps the feel casual and refined. If you already have a patio table, use that! If its colors aren’t what you envision for your outdoor dinner party, throw a tablecloth on top for a unified look.
If you don’t have a backyard but want to have an al fresco dinner party, Andrea Correale, founder of Elegant Affairs Caterers, suggests setting up on a grassy area. “You can also set up on grass without a problem. Lay indoor/outdoor carpets down if you need or want to add a design element,” says Correale.
If you live in an apartment complex, see if you can utilize a rooftop or courtyard space.
Next, think about your lighting. For the ultimate al fresco dinner party, you want soft lighting that feels relaxing. Correale says, “Lighting is key. You may want to add some string lighting, white paper lanterns or add some white twinkle lights on the trees.”
The chef also likes using candles on the table or around a blanket or outdoor rug. To shield from the wind and the risk of your light blowing out, consider using hurricanes or lanterns to enclose the flame.
Once you have the setting confirmed, it’s time to think about how you’ll make the space feel special. The best way to do this is with décor and small touches.
First, think about the place setting. What will you have at each seat? A good rule of thumb is to have the following:
These pieces can add visual interest to the table. Make your place setting a little more personal by adding place cards with your guests’ names or paper menus on the plates.
“Every summer table needs fresh crisp linens, a centerpiece and platters so guests can serve themselves,” says Allison Carter of Confetti Party Plans.
Elements like centerpieces, platters and linens help add color and texture to your tablescape.
Correale likes to choose one type of flower to work with. “Choose one type of flower and put them in full bunches, making [the table] monochromatic and stylish,” she explains.
You can also use potted seasonal herbs and plants to add some life to the table if florals aren’t your favorite.
When choosing serving platters, stay simple and neutral. “The two W’s are all you need: white and wood. One large white platter for serving and one woodcutting or serving board is necessary to have in your hosting arsenal. You will use them every time you entertain,” according to Carter.
“Mine have more than paid for themselves with the number of times I’ve used each at parties,” Carter adds. “I also use my wood board as décor in my kitchen, so it basically gets used daily! I love a dual-purpose party purchase.”
Once you have the plans for the setting in place, it’s time to move on to the star of the night – the food.
“The key to al fresco dining is to keep it simple,” says Carter. “Choose a menu that you can easily prep for ahead of time, so you aren’t spending your time in the kitchen while you should be out celebrating with your guests.”
One surefire way to keep the food simple is by grilling. No-fuss – no major cleanup. A grill menu always works best, according to Correale. “Grill your main proteins and serve with local fresh vegetables and perhaps a light starch, like farro or quinoa,” she says.
Appetizers and small plates are always a crowd pleaser. They’re typically visually appealing and small enough that everyone can try a few bites of multiple things without getting too full.
When you’re planning an outdoor dinner menu, you’ll want to make sure the sides you’re making can withstand the summer heat. “A local, fresh tomato salad is a great first-course option. You don’t have to worry about the tomatoes wilting, as you would a salad,” says Correale.
Aside from a fresh salad option, Carter also suggests making toast. “Different kinds of toasts,” she says, “cut into wedges for an easy bite, are a foolproof appetizer option.”
She suggests two toast options: one with strawberries, basil and goat cheese and another with grilled peaches, mascarpone, cheese pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of honey.
“They look beautiful on a wood serving tray, and they are always devoured within seconds! You can toast the bread ahead of time and assemble the toasts right before guests arrive,” adds Carter.
Al fresco dinners should be relaxing, but it’s hard to do that if you’re busy making drinks all night. “Choose a cocktail you can make ahead, and before your guests arrive, you just need to add ice,” suggests Carter. “I love a good spiked lemonade. Add some thyme and honey to the pitcher and let the flavors meld while it waits in the fridge.”
Get the Look
If you want to throw an al fresco dinner party but aren’t sure where to start, pick up a few of these supplies and start planning.
- Galvanized Windmill Iron Charger Plate – $10
- Bartlesville 3 Piece Dining Set – $406
- 48 ft. 24-Socket Incandescent String Light Set – $50
- Stoneware Dinner Plate – $6
- White and Pink Diamond Kilim Maliha Indoor Outdoor Rug – $450
- Beaded Rim Clear Acrylic Tumbler Set of 4 – $15
- Mustard Napkin with Stitch Trim – $5
- Clear Glass Cheyenne Lantern – $6
- Kate Aspen Copper Pipe Place Card Holder – $15
- Geo Terrarium – $10 – $18
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