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The White Company
“Whatever the size your outdoor space, you can still create the perfect atmosphere for eating outside. The key is to conjure up an intimate, self-contained area for dining – whether it’s a terrace or in the corner of a garden – and to take as much care with it as you would when hosting inside.
“First, think of interesting ways you can decorate. Hang up strings of fairy lights (there are some great solar ones these days) or swathes of bunting to zone the dining area – it’s the easiest way to make a space feel party ready.
“Plan ahead, too – as the sun sets, storm lanterns work beautifully outside and smaller candles or tea lights will offer plenty of atmosphere. It’s so important to have fun, so in terms of catering, I tend to opt for simpler things – often picked up from a local deli – that work easily for larger numbers and then present them on lovely big platters. A selection of cheeses and a big salad look lovely decanted and the displayed with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.
“I also like to set up a small outdoor bar, so everyone can help themselves. Our favourites include homemade elderflower cordial, Chase Pink Pomello Gin, Absolute Lemon Vodka and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic.”
Style the Clutter
“Create an inviting setting by softening and adding texture to your outdoor furniture with cushions rugs and throws. Then, build a centrepiece using accent flowers and foliage from the garden to tie in with the surroundings. Personally, I love using little bud vases across the centre of the table to do this.
“Candles and rechargeable lighting create a lovely warm ambiance. I love having little tea lights in clear holders scattered between the bud vases. I also really love rechargeable lights at the moment – Pooky does great ones.”
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Emma Sims Hildiltch
“Always make sure your guests are warm enough, as they won't enjoy eating outdoors if they are chilly. We lay a light wool throw on the back of every chair before people sit down.
“I like to serve a plant-based menu – like summer salads that include delicious bulgur wheat, chickpeas, roasted root veggies and a creamy lemon and chive dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice, teaspoon of mustard and some Oatly cream.
“Think about how the tablescape will complement the food. I love using pink and green coloured glasses. Take your interior scatter cushions outside for extra colour and pattern; I love to use Fermoie cushions – a different one on each chair.”
“Don’t underestimate the importance of comfortable seating with lots of cushions and add soft rugs onto the arms of chairs in case it gets chilly.
“I prefer simple table settings to make guests feel relaxed and the same goes for the food – simple salads prepared in advance so you can also relax with your guests.”
Coco & Wolf
“Dressing an outdoor table is just as important as dressing an indoor table. When laying the table outdoors, I always opt for a tablecloth with napkins to create a more relaxed setting and will mix and match the linens. Using three coordinating prints means there is still an elegant theme but it’s a touch less formal.
“When choosing flowers, go for smaller bud/posy vases with seasonal blooms rather than a large central piece so if there is a gust of wind, it won't cause chaos if the vase falls over. Five or six smaller vases down the centre of the table will look just as beautiful and mean your guests can interact as they can see each other.
“A good trick if your outdoor table or surface is slightly uneven – place a chopping board under the tablecloth as a hidden solid base for flowers and glasses.
Domenica Marland Home
“For me, summer dining is all about long, lazy meals shared with friends and family. Rather than serving something straight from the oven or kitchen, pile up some beautiful ceramic serving platters with your favourite things and spread them over the table. The same goes for the drinks, pour them into big sharing jugs to add colour and height to the table.
“My favourite dishes include the cold zucchini and parmesan soup from the River Cafe cookbook – it’s perfect served in beautiful bowls with some focaccia, and for dessert, I love grilled peaches with crushed amoretti and vanilla ice cream.
“For the table, Bertioli has a beautiful selection of linens and I also love artist and designer Bell Hutley's durable pink and green scallop and stripes tablecloth. I enjoy collecting vintage glassware and it’s a great way to add a pop of colour to your table. Always look for singles rather than sets, as they’re often much more affordable – plus, it’s much easier to mix and match all the different types.”
“Choose a colour scheme and have fun with it. The beauty of outdoor entertaining is you instantly have a striking backdrop – so choose a colour scheme which contrasts or co-ordinates with the outdoor space you have. We love blues and yellows at this time of year and it’s great to be able to use flowers to really enhance a colour scheme.
“With plenty of space to mingle, kick start your lunch, or dinner, with some delicious drinks – design a station for guests to help themselves.
“Think about what gets removed from a table as the lunch/dinner progresses and focus on the things that will remain on the table throughout the meal to stop yours looking drab and empty. Start with a bold tablecloth and layer up with contrasting napkins, beautiful placemats and flowers or foliage as a finishing touch.”
“Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you need to use plastic plates. I also like to use these pretty vintage looking food covers which protect the food and add to the aesthetic. I also like to dress the table with pot plants from the garden or cuttings of flowers in jam jars or tiny vases to make the table feel like it’s part of the garden.
“Choose food that won’t wilt in the sun. It goes against the grain, but I find sweating over a barbecue in front of guests very stressful! I would rather make things in advance so that when guests arrive, the food is done and I can enjoy their company. One of my favourite dishes to serve is this by Diana Henry, and everything is enriched by a homemade dip or sauce – this whipped feta one is easy to make and always goes down well.”
Olympia & Ariadne Irving
Carolina Irving & Daughters
“Food wise, we tend to avoid things that are too hot. It’s so much nicer to be with your guests than in the kitchen slaving away, so we like to serve food that we can prepare in advance. Fresh, seasonal ingredients such as salads, prosciutto and a big pasta dish that doesn’t have to be eaten piping hot work really well.
“Put candles in hurricane lamps – it’ll stop them going out. We also like using small side tables which are very useful when you have too many dishes and don’t want to overcrowd the table. Finally, have a good playlist to hand. We love to start with a bit of Ornella Vanoni.”