Karl Lohnes: Tips to help you and your guests dine outdoors in style

One of the first things to plan when entertaining outside is the food and beverages, since the menu will dictate the theme and decor for the event.

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Planning an outdoor morning brunch or evening dinner for guests always raises my anxiety levels. Creating the perfect table and a summer menu that’s both easy and delicious is a lot of work — and then, what if it rains?

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The weather I can’t control, but I have put a lot of thought into making my guests feel welcome and impressing them with a beautiful setting. My secret? Planning, pure and simple. Here’s my list of outdoor entertaining tips and tricks that will make you the host with the most at your next summer soiree!

Menu smarts

One of the first things I like to plan when entertaining outside is the food and beverages, since the menu will dictate the theme and decor for the event. But before you even get to table settings, here some tips to making your al fresco experience easier on the host (a.k.a. you!).

Some food is just more conducive to being enjoyed outdoors than other foods. For instance, hot food that can be kept warm on the grill lets you enjoy your guests while it’s heating and until you are ready to serve. If you don’t have a grill, consider an electric griddle.

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Food that includes ingredients like dairy needs to be kept cold right up until serving, so I avoid them. Instead of serving a creamy coleslaw, for instance, I’ll serve a vinaigrette, which can sit longer and still be safe to consume.

If your dinners tend to be long and leisurely, use a cooler to keep items chilled so you’re not running back and forth to the kitchen. Are you lucky and have a spacious outdoor kitchen? Consider adding an outdoor fridge. I have one on my upper deck and it saves a lot of running through the house for cold beverages or snacks!

Last Christmas, I created a smart way to entertain and I think I will adopt it again this summer. I hosted many small dinner parties with different guests. I planned one overall menu that I knew I could successfully prepare and then repeated that menu for each of the dinner parties. I became quite the expert at serving mushroom risotto by Christmas!

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I think I’m going to do the same this summer. I’ll serve a classic gazpacho soup, a great salad that keeps well, and plan some basic grilled fare and marinades. Keeping it simple can still be very successful and tasty — as long as you don’t repeat any invites!

Tray tables are perfect for dining outside when you don’t have a large table. Costigan Snack 5-piece Tray Table Set, $280, www.Wayfair.ca
Tray tables are perfect for dining outside when you don’t have a large table. Costigan Snack 5-piece Tray Table Set, $280, www.Wayfair.ca

Set the scene

No matter what size of outdoor dining space you have, the table is always the focal point. If your space is a little small to accommodate a large dining table, consider foldable tray tables that allow each guest to sit in a comfortable lounge chair and have their meal. The secret to successful tray service is to treat the trays as you would a large dining table. Add a tablecloth (a large dinner napkin will do), votive candle, tiny vase with flower and a placemat, just like at a larger table.

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Practicality is a huge consideration when entertaining outside. Look for dinnerware made of melamine, bamboo or acrylic for safety (breakables aren’t an option with bare feet and sandals!). The season’s most popular look for melamine dishes is any shade of blue for a coastal look or black for a sophisticated vibe. Accessorize either of those with hot fuchsia linens to liven up an outdoor table.

Want to dine more casually? Don’t set a table at all! Stack your plates, wrap cutlery in a napkin, and allow guests to pick up their service pieces and bring them to their eating area. Want real casual? Think picnic vibes! Prepare meals in recyclable or reusable takeout containers, put in paper bags and serve up your “take outside” dinner with everything in one bag.

Style and safety go hand in hand with durable melamine and bamboo tableware. Audley Grey Bamboo and Melamine Dinnerware Collection, from $11, www.crateandbarrel.ca
Style and safety go hand in hand with durable melamine and bamboo tableware. Audley Grey Bamboo and Melamine Dinnerware Collection, from $11, www.crateandbarrel.ca

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