Eating outdoors amid the sunshine, fresh breezes, and birdsong is one of the major joys of spring and summer, whether you have a spacious patio or a petite balcony. The tips below will help you make the most of it, keeping fuss to a minimum and style to a maximum.
• Repel mosquitos and other insects without harmful chemicals by placing planters of citronella, lavender, basil, peppermint, or catnip around your outdoor dining area. (Catnip is said to be 10 times more effective than DEET.) If flies are your major problem, slice some lemons in half, stud the skin with cloves, and place them throughout your outdoor space.
• We’ve sung the praises of bar carts before, and we’re doing it again. They can minimize trips to and from the kitchen by holding everything from condiments to tableware to beverages. Trays also help you carry multiple items in and out.
• If you have kids, you’re probably already aware of the benefits of melamine tableware: It’s break-resistant (and if it does break, it won’t shatter into scores of tiny shards one can easily step on), scratch-resistant, BPA-free, and dishwasher-safe. If you are eating near a pool or another wet surface, tend to walk around barefoot, or are simply a klutz, it’s a must.
• No cooler? Put those cans and juice boxes in a large ice-filled planter.
• Opt for a simple menu. For one thing, few people enjoy a heavy meal on hot days. For another, you don’t want to be stuck in a sweltering kitchen while everyone else is outside savoring the breeze. Take advantage of seasonal produce by setting out salads, crudités, and fruit, and make as much ahead of time as you can. PS: There’s no shame in ordering takeout!
• Keep dips, cheeses, and other foods cool by placing the dish they’re in within a larger bowl that’s filled with ice.
• Place mesh covers or, in a pinch, colanders over any appetizers, side dishes, or other foods you’ll be leaving out.
• Position your grill so that the smoke doesn’t blow toward the seating area.
• You can have too much of a good thing, even sunshine. A patio umbrella or a canopy can prevent people from having to squint when speaking with someone who’s directly in the sun’s path, and it can also help keep food (and guests) cooler. And of course, it offers some protection from UV rays. (You might also want to keep sunscreen available so that you and your guests can reapply throughout the day.)
• Don’t let sundown put an end to the festivities. If you have walls, a pergola, or trees to hang string lights from (or in the case of the last, to wrap lights around), go for it. If not, lanterns or LED candles can provide light wherever you need it.
Our Top Alfresco Dining Essentials
Madeleine Armchair. When you sit in this chair, you’ll feel as if you’re on the patio of a Parisian bistro, sipping a French 75 while watching the world pass by… or something like that. The styles with aluminum frames can rest on your deck all summer long.
Field of Flowers Melamine Dinner Plate. Not only is it made of dishwasher-safe, virtually shatterproof melamine, but it’s also a floral delight, reminiscent of a Dutch Golden Age still life. Keep the theme going with coordinating salad plates and linen napkins.
Elle Round Patio Umbrella, Yellow/White. Leaving aside its obvious functionality, this patio umbrella (available only here) adds zesty color and fun fringe to an outdoor area. Not a fan of yellow? It comes in four additional colors and two striped designs.
Five-Piece Drazen Acrylic Drinkware Set. Made of shatter-resistant (and dishwasher-safe) acrylic, these glasses and pitcher are ideal for outdoor gatherings, meals with kids, or just about any other occasion.
Pair of Block-Print Napkins. Even if you opt for takeout and paper plates, linen napkins will make the meal feel like a celebration.