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As the weather turns warmer, al fresco dining becomes more and more appealing. From visions of savoring decadent desserts under the stars to dreams of stimulating conversations over your favorite salmon dish, outdoor dining beckons. Are you overwhelmed with the possibilities? Read on for inspiring suggestions on how to make dining al fresco an elegant and memorable event.

Choosing a Color Palette

Choosing a color scheme for your al fresco dinner party will make the entire affair feel pulled together and intentional. It will also help guide you as you choose table linens, place cards, flower centerpieces, rugs and other decorative elements.

Use Your Finest Tableware

Save the paper plates, disposable cups and throw-away forks for picnics with the kids or a trip to the beach. For truly elegant al fresco dining, use your best china, bring out the favorite flatware and set out real wine glasses. You’ll be amazed at home quickly using your best tableware will transform the setting. You can also mix and match, using delicate china plates with heavier ceramic serving pieces. And if you are concerned that an errant breeze might grab your cloth napkins, Southern Living recommends using heavy metal holders that are both decorative and highly practical for outdoor affairs.

Set the Mood with Inviting Lighting

While candles can set a romantic tone, they may not throw enough light onto a larger dinner party, if the table is set away from the house and other light sources. If al fresco dining is likely to be a frequent occurrence, consider creating a more permanent and welcoming solution. For instance, if your table is set below a sturdy tree or pergola, Southern Living is in favor of hanging a chandelier over the festivities. Iron chandeliers can set an elegant tone and withstand the elements more readily than more delicate crystal versions, but anything that suits your style and taste can work. Globe lights also can add a soft glow to your table and surroundings. If your table is located in the midst of a lawn, consider running lines of small hanging lights to gently illuminate the entire space.

Welcome Guests with Music

If you entertain outside often, you may already have backyard speakers attached to your music system. Music is a terrific way to establish a certain tone. It can be welcoming, soothing, nostalgic and festive – it all depends on your playlist. Real Simple suggests something upbeat that welcomes guests into the cocktail hour and then “something low-key set for dinner.” If you don’t have a speaker system near your dining table, there are numerous Bluetooth-enabled portable speakers that can connect with your cell phone or other digital music device .

Add Tablecloth Linens

Laying down a classic white tablecloth creates an elegant visual. It can transform the most rustic picnic table into something that tells guests they are in for a remarkable al fresco dining experience. Of course, the linens don’t have to be white. In fact, you might want to select a color that will firmly establish your event palette. Keep in mind that while you do want linens that are soft with some flow to them, they should be weighted enough not to be too disrupted by a breeze.

Build an Event Canopy

For lawn dinner parties, the addition of a canopy, even if it just covers the immediate dining area, can add not only an elegant touch but an event feel. Guests can walk from your cocktail station to the nearly hidden table. There’s a reveal here that makes the entire al fresco dining experience feel even more special. It’s also a practical addition, should winds pick up or there is a threat of other elements intruding.

Accessorize with Flooring

Placing a rug below your outdoor table is a quick and simple way to transform your outdoor space for al fresco dining. Real Simple describes the effect as giving the area “an extra-intimate feel,” and there is no doubt that adding this accessory to your outdoor deck or patio will be eye-catching. Choose something rich and regal or a rug that is multi-colored and funky, as long as it complements whatever color scheme you’ve chosen for the evening.

Bring Nature to Your Table

Al fresco dining means that nature is all around you, and yet there is still room to bring nature directly to your table. Elaborate centerpieces are not necessary, but a few blooms from your garden or a nearby shop can be elegant additions. Choose a ceramic vase that fits with your color scheme or something metallic that works as a complement to your place settings or decorative elements. Likewise, the flowers can highlight your part’s color palette.

Select Sturdy Chairs and Outdoor Pillows

If you plan on hosting outdoor events throughout the warmer months, you may want to invest in sturdy, yet comfortable table seating. There is an array of outdoor seating options that you can make even more comfortable with felt meditation cushions or soft outdoor pillows. For an added touch of elegance, bring your dining room chairs outside. The juxtaposition of stylish indoor furniture against nature can make your al fresco dining experience even more memorable.

Accent with Place Cards and Holders

There is no doubt that place cards can add an upscale aspect to your table, particularly when hosting an al fresco event. Depending on the size of the party, it can also be of practical help in guaranteeing the seating arrangements for the best conversation flow for the evening. If you do opt for name cards at each seat, choose weighted card holders, preferably ones with clips that will keep the cards from being disturbed by an errand wind gust.

Incorporate a Sideboard

Having a sideboard or buffet tale outside, near your buffet table, accomplishes a number of goals. First, it keeps you from having to run back and forth to the kitchen should guests want second servings or need more wine. It also helps keep your dining table clear of extras while the meal is being enjoyed. Lastly, having a typically “indoor” piece of furniture play a part in your al fresco event adds a wonderful visual element. It automatically says that this event is different from other backyard dinners.

Prep Before the Event

While you cannot prepare everything before the guests arrive, doing some early preparation will allow you to go into your al fresco event much less harried. Chopping salad ingredients, marinating main dishes or preparing sauces can be done quite a bit in advance. Appetizers, like decadent cheese plates, can be prepared the day before and then set out 30 minutes prior to your event to achieve their ideal room temperature. If you are planning a show-stopping dessert (always a winning plan for al fresco dining), that can often be baked or prepared hours earlier, if not the night before your dinner.

Hire a Personal Chef for the Night

If you are planning a large party or considering a mean with multiple courses, it might be worth investigating the feasibility of hiring a personal chef for the evening. Not only can you set the menu with the chef days in advance, but you won’t have to worry about the timing of preparing and cooking each course. Hiring a personal chef will give you the maximum amount of time to spend with your guests as your enjoy a truly elegant al fresco dining experience.

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