Outdoor Dining Can Be Elegant

Often when we think of eating outdoors, we envision picnics, barbecues, pool parties and campfires, but outdoor entertaining doesn’t have to be rustic.

Use the warmth and beauty of spring and summer to host an elegant dinner party in your own back yard.

Early evening is ideal for an outdoor dinner party. The bright sun is sinking and the cool night air is still at bay.

You may use your best china, crystal, flatware, silver, linen napkins and tablecloths. If you are not this enthusiastic, party stores have absolutely anything you can imagine. I could spend hours just browsing there.

Dinner party themes don’t have to take their cues from food or drink: Color themes are a popular and fun way to make a meal unique. A Lemons and Limes party features yellow and green decor, and guests at Black and White dinners (which are increasingly popular) are often asked to wear only black or white.

Some great color combinations are pink and green, bright blue and yellow, lime green and plum, and the always elegant all white.

Hang twinkle or tea lights from trees and place many votive candles across the length of the dining table. I place candles everywhere including in our pool. This creates a beautiful atmosphere. As the sun sets, the candles will create a soft ambiance, and the dinner party can remain outdoors.

A well-manicured lawn with a backdrop of trees and plants is a perfect start. To dress up the table, sprinkle flower petals and leaves and add a few small centerpieces of cut flowers. I also like to get clear vases (you can find them at thrift stores really cheap) and place in them a couple of really big Hosta leaves. The big blue Hostas are great. Place a couple of lemons or limes in the bottom of the vase for color.

Set up an outdoor bar stocked with refreshing mixed drinks and cocktails. Fruity drinks featuring apples, peaches, lemons and watermelon will whet your guests’ appetites. Sangria is a super summer drink. Don’t forget to offer non-alcoholic versions of the cocktails for the designated drivers among you.

Keep the menu light. Salads, fresh vegetables, melons and berries, salmon, shrimp, chicken, sorbets and ice cream are good choices. Summer or not, a great filet is always good in my book.

Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Make sure you’re prepared to move the party indoors if the weather turns bad or the bugs become unbearable. This can be a challenge. If it is a formal affair, you may have to completely set a table outside and a table inside. This can be almost impossible if you don’t have a great amount of tableware or not enough seating inside. The best scenario is to check the weather forecast and if there is a chance of rain, don’t take the chance.

Judi Hendrickson of Wheeling is the co-author with Dr. Jeanne Finstein of “Walking Pleasant Valley” and is working with Finstein on their second book, “Walking Woodsdale.” She teaches etiquette and presents programs on Tea Time Traditions, the History and Etiquette of Tea and Wedding Traditions.