how to create the perfect alfresco dining tabelscape

Summer has officially arrived here in the UK, the sun is shining and we're all thinking of ways to make the most of this glorious British weather.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor space will be planning BBQs, pizza nights and alfresco suppers with friends & family, or perhaps something more intimate. 

These types of occasions are often thrown together, and that's what makes them so special. But equally, with an added touch of care and attention, these moments can be turned into something really memorable. 

Here are a few simple ways to elevate your outdoor dining game this summer. Pick and choose depending on how much time you have, or go the whole hog for a special occasion.

And if you don't have a garden or balcony, take some of these ideas to your next picnic in your local park. This isn't about instagram perfection or wanting more, but about creating memories with what you have. 

a naturally dyed madder pink twisted candle as part of an al fresco tablescape

  1. Bring the indoors out

    Outdoor dining doesn't mean you have to eat from plastic plates and paper napkins. Try to think of your outdoor dining area the same you would if you were laying your kitchen table. Use all your usual crockery, and if you're worried about breakages enamel is a brilliant go-between. Trust me, invest in some enamel plates & serving dishes and you'll use them far beyond the summer months.

  2. Add some colour

    Summer is a vibrant month, even those of us who turn to neutrals shouldn't be scared to add a little flare to the table. Napkins and candles dyed naturally will add a pop of colour but with an earthy tone. You can add colour with your food too - fill a jug with pink lemonade and make colourful salads. 

  3. Let there be light

    invest in some festoon lights (these ones from Ikea are my favourite) and bring lots of candles to the table. If it's a scorcher, be careful they don't melt, and don't even worry about lighting them if it's the daytime they'll still look beautiful as a centrepiece. If you don't have candlesticks shop around your home for vessels to put them in, little stoneware pots are a good thing to have a stash of. And if you're worried about being eaten alive, this candle from The Garden Cook will keep the bugs away. 

  4. Be creative with foliage

    if you have flowers in your garden, of course go ahead and cut a bouquet to place in a vase, but adding a little foliage is just as beautiful. Go for a forage along your street, you'll be able to snip some ivy, lavender, rosemary, sage or cow parsley. You could even bring your indoor plants outside to the table.

  5. Add some texture

    a crumpled linen tablecloth, food served on a wooden serving board, cutlery tied with ribbon or twine, beautiful napkins laid on the plates, flowers & foliage, beeswax candles, bread wrapped in a bento bag or tea towel. A considered muddle of different textures adds depth and a sense of tactility.

  6. Keep it simple

    one of the most enjoyable things about dining outside is that it's low-key, it's not too fussy and no one wants perfection. Encourage a 'bring and share' affair, don't iron your tablecloth or napkins, shove all the cutlery in a stoneware pot for people to help themselves. Stick a jug of water on the table, a tray of glasses and let everyone muddle in. For me, there's nothing nicer than watching people stretch over the table, pouring water for each other, passing plates of salads, shuffling around to chat to other people as the conversation changes. You can create a welcoming vibe from the off with how you lay the table & set the scene.

  7. Use what you have

    you needn't go out and buy a set of furniture, a fancy parasol and linen tablecloth. Get creative with what you have. Drag your dining table outside, use little stools or upturned apple crates as seats, create a picnic vibe with blankets on the floor. An old pallet or two stacked on a lawn with sheepskins or cushions to sit on makes a wonderfully intimate experience. Use a bed sheet if you don't have a tablecloth, chop it up to make napkins. If you only have a small space, bring a mirror from inside to hang up or prop against a wall to add the illusion of a bit more space. 

black enamelware as part of an al fresco tablescape

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July 16, 2021 — Alice Paling