Let’s get creative and wow our family or guests with a fabulous outdoor diner! You know, one that has them talking from the minute they arrive and delighting in all the little surprises we may have for them.
One idea that I think can set the tone for the whole evening is to pick an unusual location. Everyone expects to come and have dinner on your deck or patio, but what if we picked a location out of the norm? How fun could that be?
I was definitely one stuck to meals on our covered deck but last year I realized once the seedlings were out of the greenhouse (“Annie”) it sat unused. The light bulb went on! What a precious spot that would be to dine in! Throughout this blog you will see different times of the year I have decorated Annie up for special dinners, so she isn’t just used in summer and fall. Even winter is a fantastic time to eat outdoors, you just need a lot of candles or a heater to keep the chill off. If you want to read and learn more about Annie click this link.
Another example is my daughter was hosting a diner en blanc and she opted to use our courtyard and was that ever a spectacular setting.
So let’s get to this and go through the check list of what needs to be done.
1. Pick a location and clear the space
The first step is to determine the location. What about a neglected shed? Or perhaps a corner of your yard that is often forgotten? What about even a big tree with outspreading limbs? Once you have your spot, you need to clean the area of debris, junk, pests (wasps, ants, etc) to provide yourself with a blank canvas. Below is a pic of Annie in a pretty bare state waiting for the decor to come and bring her to life.
2. Consider shelter from the elements
Depending on the location, consider if you will need an umbrella or sun shade to provide shade or shelter from potential rain. Is it a windy location? Do you need some sort of wind break such as screen? Does it lack privacy from the neighbours so should you consider some flowing fabric or a movable screen or large potted plants? Make a list of what you need and then get those items in place.
3. Determine your lighting and music sources
When it comes to setting the mood there is nothing better than lighting and music. First, what is going to power those items? If electricity is required run the extension cord at this point to make sure it is long enough and to allow you to do some test runs to make sure everything works. An important point is to hide it so that not only is it not unsightly but also that it is not a tripping hazard. You may need to tape it to the secure it to the edge of the shed, or run it from a different direction where guests will not be walking. Next run it to a central location and try to hide the mechanics so that the illusion is not lost. This may entail covering you light or music source or placing it strategically out of view.
With respect to the lights, make sure you have enough to keep everyone safe and to provide them with enough light to view their food and be comfortable. Overhead lighting is a good option, stringing it through rafters, from one post to another, along branches or any support you can find. If you are using a tablecloth, light under the table can also set a beautiful ambience to the scene. Get your lights up first while the area is clear so that you are not tripping over tables and chairs.
Lighting options these days are endless. Solar, battery operated, candles or how about battery operated candles so there are no drips of wax? Also consider appropriately placed mirrors to reflect the light or floating candles in water to set the mood. Watch for fire hazards like florals, napkins or decor being too close to a candle. Try also not to have any lights that will be hard on the eyes or directly into a guest’s eyesight.
4. Start with the base
Work from the ground up. Depending on the location, consider things like what do you need for a ground cover. If you are in a shed, could the floor use a coat of fresh paint? White is always nice and you can layer with a rug, but what about aqua blue, soft pink, sage green, or a muted terra cotta. These colors could take the space from hoo hum to a show stopper. If you are outdoors, consider pavers, old bricks, a simple large rug or even a heavy blanket or a sheet. Choose something so that you provide your guests with a comfortable spot to place their feet. As well, all of these options will help to define the space and may make the movement of chairs easier as guests seat themselves.
5. Gather the furniture
What will be serving as the table? Do you have an outdoor table? Is it pretty or not? If not don’t worry, a tablecloth, especially in outdoor dining can really bring a lot of beauty to the area. If the table is pretty, perhaps a runner or foliage down the center is all that is needed. This macrame runner ads just enough interest without being overwhelming.
Will the food be placed on the table where everyone is eating? Is the table large enough to accomodate this? If not consider a piece of furniture to serve as the buffet. If you are in the garden, maybe it is a potting bench? If you are in the shed, maybe you have a tool cabinet? Old rustic tables or benches can work too.
Don’t have one table big enough? Then consider spacing the dishes around on smaller serving tables and add some variety with the color of the tables or the table covers placed on them. This wine rack served perfectly as a dessert station.
Eating outdoors opens up many possibilities and it is the best place to lose rules and enjoy creativity! Look around, see what you have and think out of the box to see how it can be used.
Whether it be alcoholic, non-alcoholic, tea, coffee or water think of ways to make it special. Do you have everything set up in an old cabinet – glasses, tea cups, wine glasses placed attractively? Drink options arranged and labeled?
Perhaps it is as simple as tubs with ice with drinks wedged into the ice. Maybe have pre-mixed drinks in large dispensers. Don’t forget about ice!
Some special ones I have enjoyed placing bottled beverages in are an old metal tool box (below) I have and an old gardening tray (above). They have been so much fun to work with.
Last but definitely not least do not forget about an area dedicated to scrumptious desserts. Tiered shelves can be great option to display the choices. Don’t forget to add sprigs of greenery and fruits like berries interspersed.
Seating is so important. Try to pick options that are comfortable. I have been to a few events where I could not wait to leave or get up and move around because the seating was so uncomfortable!!! Make sure your family and friends can relax and enjoy themselves – this will go a long way to making sure your dinner party is a success.
As for seating, you may have a whole matching set, but if not, make it interesting, by mixing and matching and even using benches. Collect a variety of chairs and benches but make sure to tie the whole setting together by:
- painting them or
- having the same cute wreath hanging from the back or
- matching cushions on the seats.
One last thing to consider is, will the temperature change through the evening. If it may cool off, make sure to have a basket of blankets that people can wrap themselves in to keep warm. You may also want to consider patio heaters as an option too!
6. The Pretty Stuff
So let’s talk decor. The second your guests arrive, make sure it is inviting. Set the tone for what is to come. Perhaps it is a bouquet of balloons, or a walkway lined in candles…lead the way and start the experience immediately. We already talked about lighting and the floor covering so let’s head on over to the decor.
Start with a charger. With outdoor dining, I feel it is nice to go with natural fibres like vintage woven wicker, rattan, a tarnished metal charger that give the feel of old garden tools, chargers edged in florals, shells, or leaves.
Have fun with your china, mix and match patterns. Example, the main course plate is used from one collection, but the small plate or salad bowl is from another. Or mix it up so that it varies from guest to guest. I find guests love this and enjoy seeing what everyone else has. It is definitely a conversation starter. The key is to make sure they coordinate in some way. Do not get out of hand with this or you will just end up with a dizzy, head ache inducing mess. Stick with a color scheme that is cohesive – from your cushions, chair color, table cloth and florals.
You can mix it up here too but make sure you have everything covered. What type of drinks are you serving? Make sure you have the appropriate glassware for each type of drink. As well, make sure you have plenty of water available and separate glasses for it. Don’t forget the cups if you are serving tea or coffee at the end of the evening.
I don’t know about you but I have become “an old cutlery lady” (like an old cat lady)! I really enjoy collecting cutlery. Old stuff or new stuff. I have a wide variety of choices including anything from silver to gold to rose gold. It has become so handy because I can match it to the rest of the table setting. In this area, unless you are using old silver cutlery, I would not mix and match. Don’t forget cutlery you may need for dessert, coffee and tea or serving pieces.
I am having so much fun with napkins now. I find them at second hand stores, dollar stores, online, you name it. I like either having them in a napkin ring across the top plate or folded and placed between the main serving dish and the salad dish or plate. When I place the napkin between those two items, it allows me to do something special on the very top like placing a flower or a sprig of plant or tree.
So now we are really at the fun spot – the point where we get to add the finishing touches. Fresh flowers are always the best, so consider planting a cutting garden in spring to provide you with lots of options through the summer. Some of the flowers I have really enjoyed working with are tulips, daffodils, delphiniums, hydrangea, zinnias, dahlias and sunflowers.
Some places you should consider placing floral arrangements are:
- of course on the table where everyone is dining, but make sure not to block sight lines. There is nothing worse than having to peek around flowers to keep a conversation going. You could consider either low bowls of flowers or a garland of flowers down the center of the table. Using artificial flowers for this would be best but you can also put water tubes and discretely hide them under other foliage.
- at all the serving stations. In these areas you can go with larger arrangements, but make sure guests can easily access the food or drinks without knocking over the arrangement.
- overhead – consider hanging flowers from a chandelier or overhead beams. This would probably be a good place for artificial flowers.
- entrance whether it be a trellis leading into a garden or a door into a shed, make sure you have some flowers in this location too either on the trellis or framing the sides and top of the door.
7. Enjoy, relax and celebrate!
Once the food is served, remember to take the time to soak in what you have created. Focus on your guests and enjoy, simply enjoy! Do not be the hostess that rushes around all night. This can make your guests uneasy. Get your husband or kids involved with some tasks. Perhaps it is clearing the dishes or bringing out the next course. Enlist some help and relax!
One of the best gifts you can give your guests is for them to see you also enjoying the evening!
Love this project? Well here is a pin for your pinterest board!
Just before you leave, please hop on over to these beautiful blogs and see what they are up to for outdoor dining ideas!