Warmer days and longer evenings make the perfect setting for an alfresco dinner party. Nothing beats enjoying some delicious food, tasty drinks, and great company on a balmy summer’s day.
However, dinner parties are often thought of as stressful and time-consuming. Before beginning your preparations, you might ask yourself: “How should I dress the table?”, or “How can I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible?”.
If this resonates with you, heed these wise words from Rose Prince, food writer, author and cook:
“Throw a party in which you are a participant and not a slave” - Rose Prince
So, to help you on your way to alfresco dining success, we share some tips and advice on how to host the perfect outdoor dinner party that both you and your guests can enjoy.
SEATED OR STANDING?
Seating is the most essential consideration because it dictates the menu choice. Can you seat all guests at once, or will some be seated and others standing?
If you choose to have your guests standing, opt for ‘hand foods’ that don’t require crockery or cutlery but can be served on trays. Our favourite canapé-style recipes include tomato and mozzarella bites, butternut squash and feta tartlets, and potato cakes with smoked salmon and cream cheese. All are filling, delicious and easy to make well in advance, leaving you time to dress your outdoor space and prepare for a stress-free party that will wow your guests.
Benches that allow 3-4 people to sit side by side are a great way to maximise the space. They also create a feeling of “togetherness” when compared to individual chairs.
If you decide on a sit-down scenario, seated diners can enjoy food that’s served on individual plates. When it comes to seating, benches that allow 3-4 people to sit side by side are a great way to maximise the space. They also create a feeling of “togetherness” when compared to individual chairs. Create a cosy, cushioned space to sit by draping sheepskin rugs over the bench. They’ll capture heat for your guests to enjoy when the evening cools, too.
CREATE A BEAUTIFUL TABLE SETTING
For a dinner party your guests will remember, spend some time in advance perfecting your statement table setting. This is for practical reasons as well as aesthetic – making the most of your outdoor space will help to keep guests entertained and away from the kitchen.
Neutral crockery, linen and tableware, like our black acacia serving tray and aluminium tray, provide a beautiful backdrop that allows the colours of the food to ‘pop’.
As serving trays tend to be quite large, and therefore more difficult to store away between occasions, choose something that will look stylish left out on display on a kitchen countertop, sideboard, cabinet, or dining table. Neutral crockery, linen and tableware, like our black acacia serving tray and aluminium tray, provide a beautiful backdrop that allows the colours of the food to ‘pop’.
As the summer solstice was Saturday 20th June, the days will get shorter and darker from now until December. Therefore, consider outdoor lighting to add a little magic to your surroundings. Battery or low-voltage mains powered fairy lights, or even candles will do the trick. Placed in one of our beautiful monochrome candle holders, the result will be stunning at sunset, when nature’s dusky glow transforms your outdoor space into a magical night-time oasis.
To create interest amongst your table setting, try integrating flowers, herbs and foliage freshly cut from the garden. Pebbles, conkers or pieces of driftwood can also be used as rustic natural décor, doubling as weights to stop the napkins and tablecloth from blowing in the wind.
CHOOSE A MINIMAL, YET DELICIOUS, MENU
Alfresco dining is often lazy grazing, so consider that food and drink may sit on the table for several hours. Outdoor dining during a British summer can mean that hot food goes cold quickly, and cold or frozen foods become warm or melt.
Deciding on a minimalist menu, like a one-pot-wonder (for example, paella, chilli or tagine), can sometimes be better than multiple courses – and it means you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time in the garden mingling with your guests.
If you need some inspiration to get you started, why not give this easy-yet-delicious recipe a try?
One-Pot Prawn Linguine
- 2 tsp olive oil
- ½ small onion, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 30g Spanish chorizo ring, diced
- ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
- 250g passata
- 100g linguine, snapped in half
- 75g cooked king prawns
- 2 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Add the chorizo and cook for 3-4 minutes until browned and it releases its fragrant oil. Season well and stir through the chilli flakes and pepper. Add the passata, bring to the boil, and add the linguine.
Turn the saucepan down to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of water to thin it. Stir through the prawns until heated all the way through. Serve with fresh parsley.
DON’T FORGET THE FINISHING TOUCHES
To keep your guests comfortable, provide plump cushions and soft blankets so that when the sun goes down, they can wrap up warm and continue the party well into the night. Our grey tassel throw blanket adds cosy texture and a hint of luxury to impress your guests.
To keep your guests comfortable, provide plump cushions and soft blankets so that when the sun goes down, they can wrap up warm and continue the party well into the night.
In the height of summer when bugs and other annoying critters are out in force, why not try a citronella candle? They’re a wonderful way to set the mood and act as a natural insect repellent. And, of course, sun cream on a hot, sunny day would be highly appreciated, we’re sure. Hide these bits and bobs away in a tall vase or pot so that they don’t spoil the beautiful aesthetic of your dinner table.
TOP TIPS FOR REMAINING COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED
Alfresco dinner parties can be stressful, but they don’t need to be. Following these top tips is a sure-fire way to keep yourself calm and allow yourself to revel in the buzzing party atmosphere:
- Know your limitations. Serve only dishes that you have time and experience to make.
- Prepare as much in advance as possible.
- Build in a contingency plan and allow plenty of time.
- Ask others for help. Parties are not about being a hero host who does it all single-handed. Besides, your friends and family will only be too happy to lend a hand.
- Choose dishes that are easy to serve, or that can be placed on the table for guests to dive in and help themselves.
- Barbecuing is fun, but it can sometimes mean one person is preoccupied with the grilling and can become somewhat excluded from the group.
- Offer plenty… and more! Don’t risk having to rustle up more food last minute while your guests wait.
We hope you have a dinner party to remember. If any of these alfresco dining tips helped you plan yours, we’d love to hear your stories. Please reach out to us via email, social media or in the comments below.
📷 Images courtesy of Julie Aldridge who lives in a beautiful thatched cottage in Cambridgeshire, UK. Check out @aldridgejulie on Instagram for a virtual tour around her home and garden.