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Al Fresco Dining: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Whenever weather permits, we love to eat outside! Al fresco dining, or eating outside in the fresh air, is the perfect way to entertain.  I’m going to share a step by step guide for al fresco dining at home – because the easier something is, the more likely people will do it!

What does it mean to dine “al fresco”?

I remember going to Little Italy in New York while I was in college.  We ate outside on the sidewalk, with only the street lights illuminating our table.  To me, it was magical, and right then and there I knew that I wanted to entertain at home the same way.  It felt special, almost magical.  It felt like I was transported somewhere far away, and somehow, it made the food even more delicious!

Dining al fresco means that you are setting up your meal outside, in the open air.  If you think, however; that eating outside in Italy is called al fresco dining you’d be mistaken.  You can read all about that here!

Easy steps for planning an al fresco dinner party:

The guest list:

Keep your guest list small.  A few friends around a table is really all you need to set the mood for a wonderful evening.  Putting together an al fresco dinner party isn’t meant to be a big party. Keeping your guest list intimate allows you to spend time with each guest.

Menu:

Keeping your menu seasonal is an easy way to keep your menu simple.  Depending upon where you live, you could dine al fresco all year.  In fact, we live in Florida and ate inside maybe four times last year.  Don’t choose dishes that you need to constantly monitor. 

Start by having appetizers ready when guests arrive.  I would suggest a simple charcuterie board.  Below is a photo of an individual charcuterie board I made for one of my al fresco dinner parties.

The great thing about charcuterie, is that it can be prepared a bit ahead of time so you don’t need to be in the kitchen when guests arrive.  Here are some additional appetizers I would suggest for an al fresco dinner party:

Prosciutto & Fig Bruschetta

Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Mini Quiche Appetizers

Each of these appetizers are ones that can be made in advance and set out for guests right before they arrive.  

Preparing a meal ahead of time, or outside on the grill next to your guests is the way to go for a meal when dining al fresco. My advice to hosts and hostesses new to entertaining is always the same – don’t try a new recipe the night you plan to serve it. 

Pick something seasonal and keep it simple.  

Start with a simple salad.  You can find a bunch of different recipes to choose from right here.  Each recipe uses fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables that are easy to find. 

Easy Summer Salads

Next, pick a main dish that’s a snap to make.  A pasta dish that uses fresh, simple ingredients is a winner for al fresco dining because it’s so simple to put together!

Easy Pasta Caprese Recipe

When the weather turns cooler, opt for a heartier dish.  Remember that you can still dine al fresco in cooler weather.  Invest in a fire pit or an outdoor space heater to cozy up your space! 

Slow cooking for al fresco dining? 

There isn’t anything wrong with using your slow cooker to cook up your favorite dish and still savor the last days of fall.  If you don’t have a recipe of your own, I’ve linked to two super simple recipes you can use for your next fall al fresco dinner party!

The Ultimate Chili Recipe

Easy Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Cocktails:

There are very few times that I’ll offer guests several different cocktails.  My recipe for success with cocktails is very simple and there are only three things to remember:

  1. One good quality red wine.

  2. One good quality white wine.

  3. A seasonal signature cocktail.

To build on that, batch make your signature cocktail because you don’t want to be stuck behind the bar any more than you want to be stuck at the stove. Set out drinks on the table or a nearby spot where guests can serve themselves, and remember – always offer a non-alcoholic alternative.  

Setting the stage for al fresco dining:

To do al fresco dining right you need to make sure the ambiance is spot on.  Here’s a tip – shop your home for what you need.  I’m sure you try to surround yourself with things you love – so simply re-home them for an evening! 

  • Use simple linens to set your table.  A charger along with simple white dishes, and a fresh napkin.
  • Clear glasses that catch the candlelight.
  • Move lanterns or candle holders from inside to use to light up your table.
  • Gather from what’s around you to decorate! Use flowers from your garden, or fresh herbs as a centerpiece.

You probably already have what you need

to make a space special!

 

  • Light the space with white Christmas lights or simple string lights.
  • If you’re al fresco dining in the fall make sure there are a few extra comfy throw blankets available.  
  • Keep bugs away in summer by providing a scent-free bug spray to guests.

It’s really all about making your space comfortable so that your guests feel at home!

More tips for al fresco dining at home:

  • Keep it simple by keeping decor consistent.  Keep to a color palette and keep everything fresh such as using herbs for a centerpiece along with white unscented candles.  Simple white linen tablecloths add a touch of elegance to your party!
  • If you have a fire pit, light it.  Set more chairs around the fire pit to retire to after dinner.

Everyone loves a fire pit!

  • When people ask what they can bring, tell them their favorite dessert!  Set up a table on the side for everyone to place their dishes when they arrive!
  • Play soft music in the background.  Grab your bluetooth speaker and play some non-intrusive music.  I enjoy classical guitar.  The faint sound of music is relaxing for guests and fills in for any awkward silence.  

Creating a casual al fresco dining experience at home can really be super simple.  Use what you have, stay seasonal, and let the good times roll!

xoxo,

JJ

An outdoor table set up on the grass for four people. Simple linens and yellow flowers with place settings, and a salad.

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