At this time of year, I like to dine outdoors as often as possible, whether I’m entertaining guests or just enjoying breakfast on my own. Eating outdoors makes me reminiscent of holidays, automatically elevating even the simplest meal to more of an occasion. Although I enjoy dining al fresco and encourage others to do the same whenever possible, there are a few things to consider when eating outdoors to make sure you are comfortable. Here are some of my tried and tested tips and tricks to make al fresco dining simpler, more enjoyable and stress free.
Comfort is key
We all spend time and money ensuring that our dining chairs are comfortable for everyday dining; outdoor chairs are no different. Avoid stools and metal chairs, opting for wooden dining chairs with cushioned seats to ensure your guests are sitting comfortably. If you are hosting an evening dinner party, be aware that the temperatures may drop even on the hottest days, so provide blankets or throws for your guests to use if they feel chilly.
Keep wasps and flies away
One of my pet peeves of dining outdoors is wasps and flies buzzing around the food. Always keep food and drinks covered when you’re not eating, even savoury dishes. It’s a myth that wasps are only attracted to sugary food. A good tip that I learned from holidays in Italy and Croatia is to place dry, used coffee grounds in a small bowl and light them as you would incense. Place the bowl upwind of where you are sitting to deter insects such as flies and mosquitos.
Be prepared for rain and wind
Even at the height of summer you can’t guarantee there won’t be a sudden shower. If you have the option, dine beneath a covered area, or have a large parasol that protects against rain positioned over your table. Consider also how you would protect your table on a windy day. Weigh down napkins with cutlery or substantial napkin rings, and ensure pieces of paper such as place cards or menus can’t fly away.
Have fun with your table styling
Al fresco tables are generally more casual, even for more formal occasions. This is the perfect time to try out something different with your table styling or to use a bolder piece, such as a gingham ruffle tablecloth. I like to think of an outdoor table as an elevated picnic, using ginghams, rattan placemats and basket weave plates to add to the ambiance. Flowers gathered from your own garden are the perfect finishing flourish.
Plan an easy menu
You don’t want to be running back inside to stir or check on what you’re cooking, so plan a simple menu that you can cook, or at least prepare in advance. Sharing dishes such as salads are ideal for relaxed outdoor dining, alongside something that can be left in the oven on a timer, such as a roast chicken. You could also fire up the barbecue and cook outside, to serve alongside pre-prepared side dishes.
How to make al fresco dining more formal
Dining outdoors is typically more casual but can also work for a more formal occasion or celebration. To make your al fresco meal more of a formal event, it’s all about the tableware you use and the way you present your food. Don’t be afraid to bring out your best crockery and cutlery, and to lay an elegant tablecloth. A crisp white linen tablecloth always lends well to elegant occasions, and you can add your own flourish with your choice of placemats and napkins. Rather than picking your own flowers, elevate your table with the addition of a floral arrangement crafted by your favourite florist.
Browse our Al Fresco tableware edit for inspiration for dressing your own outdoor table this summer.