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Fall is fast approaching, and it's the perfect time to hold an outdoor dinner party now that hot weather is giving way to cooler temperatures.
Think about it: A cool breeze, a great meal, and a beautifully set table with lots of extra cozy areas to lounge in as your guests mingle and relax. Sounds dreamy, right?ﾠ
To make your outdoor dinner party dreams come true, you’ll need to do some prep work.
I’m here to point you in the right direction (and even got some insight from a professional chef who specializes in outdoor meals!) to help you plan and execute an unforgettable evening this fall.
Single-Use And Rental Tableware For The Highly Efficient Host
If planning the tablescape beforehand and cleaning up after a busy night of cooking and socializing is something you dread, look for ways to boost efficiency. Consider single-use tableware that can be tossed or recycled or renting curated tablescapes that can be sent back after the party ends.
Sitdown’s Half Moons Tablescape, for example, is a done-for-you, single-use kit. For just $58, it includes a table runner, two kinds of candles, name cards, and placemats with a color-coordinated theme for eight guests. (If your guests aren’t too messy, you can reuse and extend the life of these items, too!)
Coterie is another option that allows you to select from curated paper dinnerware collections (around $50 for a table of 10). If you don’t need much, you don’t have to go for a full set, either—order some a la carte items and you’re good to go.
If you’re not a fan of paper products, consider Casamia, which offers a complete themed tablescape kit that features, well, just about everything—dinner plates, small bowls, dinner napkins, glass mason jars, table accessories, and a vase. Currently, the brand offers six fantastic kits to choose from, averaging about $170 for a table of eight.
If renting items sounds like a better option for you, Social Studies has a wide selection of themed table settings available for rent (with plates, flatware, bowls, napkins, candles, and glassware) averaging around $50/guest. No post-event storage required.
Everyday-Use Tableware For The Frequent Entertainer
If you’re one to seek any excuse to gather friends and family around the table, investing in high-quality tableware is a must. That way, you’ll get the most out of your everyday dinnerware.
When choosing dinnerware sets, I tend to go for quality and function. Fable’s complete dinnerware set hits the mark at just $235. The hand-finished ceramics come in various colors, but I love the Beachgrass Green shade, as the natural color aligns with the outdoor setting.
Rigby is another great choice. The brand makes classic plates with a practical design. For example: these minimalist stoneware dinner plates ($64 for a set of four) have raised edges to help prevent spills.
Year & Day’s flatware is a nice addition to any dinner table, too. It’s high-quality stainless steel and comes in four different colors: polished steel, matte steel, matte gold, and matte black. I’ve got to say, there’s nothing like matte gold for a little splash of elegance. A four-person setting retails for $280.
If you’re grilling out, be sure to have some high-quality knives on hand for guests. Benchmade’s Table Knife Set is great to use in the kitchen, and the sleek look means it’ll also fit right in at your dinner party. At $600 per set these are more of an investment, but they are incredibly well-made and come with a lifetime guarantee.
From there, you can start to accessorize your table with high-quality items you can use over and over:
- Minna’s Panalito table runner and placemats in sage ($78) are ethically made and layer beautifully, adding a subtle pop of color to your table setting.
- Longaberger’s candlestick holders ($24/per) are made of cast iron and add a nice dash of romance as candle wax drips down them over time. The brand also offers great bud vases you can use as centerpieces.
- Article’s Bori lanterns and Farmgirl flowers floral arrangements add memorable details that help set the mood.
Ensure A Comfortable Outdoor Environment
The fastest ways to make an outdoor dinner party end early: 1) Unwelcome mosquitoes and 2) nowhere to hang out beyond the dinner table. Enter Outer’s Bug Shield Blanket ($125)and Thermacell’s Patio Guard ($24.99). Both are great for keeping bugs at bay so your guests can enjoy their evenings bite-free.
From there, make sure there are places for your guests to lounge and chat beyond the table. Outer’s Aluminum Collection (from $750 ad up) makes a great investment: these pieces are comfortable, weather-resistant, and non-corrosive.
Throw pillows are my next go-to option for cozying up a space. I go for washable items that will hold up well over time like Cultiver’s Mira cushion covers ($100/each), made of high-quality linen known for its long lifespan.
Stock Up On Snacks And Drinks
Cut down on pre-party shopping with ready-made collections of curated food items, delivered to your doorstep. The Foxtrot Box is great for this: You can get a variety of specialty snacks that are ready to go as soon as they arrive for about $50.
When it comes to drinks, there are plenty of fantastic options:
- Recess offers canned CBD drinks ($4.16/per for a 12-pack) that will help you and your guests feel relaxed all night long.
- For the alcohol-free guests, Swoon’s lemonade drinks ($29.99 for a 12-pack) and Gruvi’s alcohol-free beers ($59 for a 20-count sampler) are great options.
- Haus is a great option for low-alcohol aperitifs that are all-natural with fruit, herbs, and botanicals as their key ingredients priced at $40/bottle. Haus is great for making cocktails, too!
5 More Outdoor Dinner Party Tips From Chef Mona Johnson
Finally, I was lucky to score some tips from a true expert when it comes to outdoor dinner parties. Chef Mona Johnson is the co-founder of Portland-based Tournant, a company specializing in bespoke “farm-to-fire” meals served in the great outdoors.
Here’s what she recommends:
- If you’re grilling outside, place the grill in an area adjacent to where guests are gathering. Grilling pre-seasoned/portioned items over the flames keeps things simple and allows guests to interact with the cook and anticipate the meal.
- Prepare as much as possible in advance so you can spend more time with your guests and less time in the kitchen. Chop vegetables, pick herbs, and prep items like dressings, sauces, and dessert so that dishes can be assembled with ease. In professional kitchens, this is known as ‘mise en place,’ or ‘everything in its place.’
- Make it a collaborative effort. If you want to keep things simple, offer guests an appetizer they can cook themselves over a fire, or perhaps a buffet of garnishes so they can customize their own dishes. This will definitely cut out a significant amount of time preparing food.
- Set up a self-serve bar. Chilled beverages and glassware mean guests can choose their own adventure and cut down on serving time.
- Anticipate your guests' comfort. Have some cozy blankets or wraps on hand in case the evening turns chilly. Lighting a fire is also another way you can transition away from the dinner table and relax while staying warm.
All that’s left to do now is to put together your invite list. Cheers to a cozy (and safe!) outdoor gathering this fall where you can still socially distance but capture that community feeling we’ve all been craving so much.