How to Set the Perfect Table for Outdoor Entertaining

Summer’s almost here, and that means it won’t be long before you start enjoying one of the biggest perks of the season: dining al fresco. Whether you’ll be entertaining friends or hosting family members for a mini-reunion, there’s something special about eating in the great outdoors.

Delicious food is important, but that doesn’t mean you should just slap a few burgers on the grill and call it a day. Taking a little time to create a beautiful table is an important step in making sure your gathering is as special as it should be. Summer is all about being casual, so while having a theme can make decorating easier, your goal is to create a more relaxed vibe.

Here are some tips to get your started:

  • Start with the table cover. Fabric options are fine for some meals, but messy barbecue sauces call for disposable cloths and mats or easy-care fabrics. Another fun option: Consider covering your table in brown craft paper, a low-cost solution that can be recycled when the meal is over. If your guest list includes kids, scatter some crayons so they can draw to their heart’s content. Bonus tip: Bandanas from your local dollar store make great napkins; they soak up a lot of sauce and you can color code them for each guest.
  • Choose your tableware. Raid your china closet and all those boxes of yard sale goodies you’ve been hiding in your basement, and pull together a mix-and-match look that’s casual and quirky. Or opt for disposables in bright colors. Shop at party supply stores to find plates, cups – even flatware – that are strong enough to prevent leakage. Pick two complementary colors, and mix and match for bold impact.
  • Use lighting to set the mood. Candles on the table are nice, but also consider battery-operated light strings draped from tree branches or wound through your centerpiece to mimic the look of fireflies. Wrap wire around the neck of a wide-mouth jar, create a handle and insert a battery-powered tea light  — voilà! You’ve got a lantern to hang from the trees without the risk of fire.
  • Add a touch of nature. Why go to all the effort of setting a great table if you aren’t going to incorporate a little nature into your setting? Instead of cut flowers in vases, how about individual potted plants at each person’s spot? Or for a more contemporary feel, have your kids paint bare branches in bright primary colors and put them in containers with a bit of florist foam at the bottom. Leave them as-is or add a battery-powered light string for extra twinkle. Been to the beach? Scatter clean shells down the center of the table (wash shells first with a bleach solution to eliminate odors).
  • Don’t forget the favors. Think fun: Big lollipops, boxes of sparklers and bottles of bubble solution are inexpensive ideas that let guests continue the celebration for days to come.

There are lots of ways to set a great table for your next outdoor party. And of course, if eclectic isn’t your style, go ahead and pick a theme. No matter which approach you choose, put the focus on fun, and your party is sure to be a hit.


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