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The Secrets to Delightful Outdoor Dining
After being cooped up over the winter months, the sunny weather, warm breezes and lush foliage cause us to look for every opportunity to be outdoors.  Dining included.   With summer weather upon us, hosts are moving dinner parties to the out-of-doors for a special, memorable dining experience.

Whether you’re planning an alfresco early morning breakfast, an impromptu lunch or a meticulously planned barbeque or dinner, there are tips and tricks that can make your outdoor dining experience easier and more enjoyable.  

The Setting;
Choose an area of your deck or backyard that offers the most privacy for your dinner setting. Tucking the table into a corner by a fence, deck railing or hedge will make your guests feel cozy and comfortable.  Make sure the table’s situated away from the barbeque if you’re grilling.  Dress up your patio table with a fresh tablecloth and consider stringing white lights around trees or along fencing or decking for a lovely evening glow. 

If the nights are still chilly but you and your guests would like to be outdoors, consider a standing or table sized propane heater, which can warm up the area where your guests are dining.

Seating Outdoors
If you don’t have enough patio chairs for your guests, don’t worry.  Just add a variety of chairs from inside the house or from neighbour’s, and then dress them with comfortable seat cushions.  And remember to check the ground around the table to make sure your chairs won’t sink into the grass - a few strategically -placed small patio blocks can help with this issue.

A Simple Menu:
Keeping the menu simple, with a minimum amount of kitchen fuss, is also important to relaxed outdoor dining. Save the five-course extravaganza for a special indoor dinner party. Classic barbeque fare is always popular, but consider adding a cool summer soup (like gazpacho) and fresh garden salads.  Pick dishes that can be made in advance or require little preparation before cooking and serving.

Avoid Pests and Accidents:
It’s important to make sure that the minor perils of dining outside don't destroy the mood and drive you indoors on a beautiful summer evening. Citronella-scented candles or oil lanterns can help keep mosquitoes at bay, and food covers can keep other pesky insects off of your carefully prepared dishes.  Think about providing napkin holders and weighting down light objects with decorative items to avoid the wind taking over your table.

Dishware:
If you’re not concerned about bringing your indoor dishes outside, there’s nothing more elegant than china under the stars.  But there are also lots of unbreakable dinnerware options, like melamine, that are dishwasher safe and attractive for your table. 

Décor:
Instead of cut flowers, use clay pots planted with fragrant herbs (such as rosemary and thyme) and hardy annuals (such as white geraniums and impatiens) for centerpieces all summer long. Move them around to best advantage for the dinner experience, and then place them back where they belong the next day. 

Keeping things cool:
Keeping your beverages cold while entertaining outside doesn’t necessarily mean dragging out the camping cooler.  Consider an inexpensive kiddie pool, which come in a variety of sizes and colours.  Fill it with ice and place drinks, bottles and even a watermelon or two to keep cool.    There are attractive galvanized tubs that can be filled with ice for this purpose as well.  And use your imagination and make interesting uses of the wheelbarrow or plastic beach tote for this purpose.

For formal dining experiences where a little sparkle is in order, fill large clear acrylic bowls with shiny silver foil shreds and mix in ice. These shreds, often used in gift bags, are available at most party or card stores and come in many colors.

Don’t be afraid to take your celebration outside to create a special dining experience.  By planning ahead, being creative and thinking about your guests’ comfort and enjoyment, you can create a memorable and fun evening under the sun and stars.

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