How to make outdoor dining a memorable occasion

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Updated: July 24, 2019

Ah the art of the dinner party. It truly is an art, isn’t it? From ensuring that your guests are sufficiently fed (and watered!) to crafting the perfect ambiance and letting the conversation flow, there’s a lot of planning that goes into hosting a successful soirée.

Of course at the cottage, a dinner party is a much more relaxed affair—one in which the great outdoors, pristine views, and sparkly stars are the real stars of the show. So rather than focusing on fancy fare or pristine potluck items, guests are content to bask in the gorgeous scenery and in the company of great friends.

That doesn’t mean planning should fall to the wayside, though.

Hosting your own outdoor shindig? Here are some tips to help make it a comfortable and communal experience from arrival to sunset, and an evening that your friends will reminisce about all summer long.

Keep the bugs at bay

When you picture an idyllic outdoor dinner party at the cottage, slapping away bugs and itching your ankles probably doesn’t come to mind. Unfortunately June is prime mosquito season in cottage country, while July and August are ripe months for deer and horse flies. Add in the fact that dusk seems to be these bugs’ favourite time for prying on exposed human flesh, and swarms can quickly ruin an otherwise splendid evening.

Avoid the hassle by using covered serving containers or beverage containers with lids, or remove pesky mosquitoes from the area altogether with Thermacell’s Zone Mosquito Repellent technology, a compact, portable device available in a variety of styles that look great on any patio or deck. It’s odourless, easy to use, and effective, giving you and your companions a 15-foot zone of mosquito protection without resorting to strong-smelling candles or sprays.

Keep comfort top-of-mind

Whether you’re looking at doing a simple barbecue or going all-out with some fancier fare, take note of how many guests you’ll be serving and what your space looks like. If you’ve got the room for a sit-down meal at an outdoor table, ensure that any utensils you use won’t fly away when the wind picks up. Secure any napkins or lighter plates with painted rocks, jewels, or other weights that double as décor, and be sure to use glasses with a weighted bottom to avoid spills.

If you’re hosting a larger gathering, consider ditching the fork-and-knife menu. Opt for easier finger foods like kebobs, sausages, or tapas that will allow your guests to eat with ease while mingling and enjoying your beautiful space.

Bring on the veggies

Protein and barbecue are an obvious match, but if you want to avoid giving your guests the meat sweats be sure to mix up the menu. Aim for a colourful plate that includes grilled veggies like peppers, onions, Portobello mushrooms, or zucchini, and be sure to offer some vegetarian options like grilled tofu as well.  

Not into the idea of grilling up a bunch of different veggies? Adding greens doesn’t have to be complicated. Lay out a veggie plate or toss a bagged salad into a pretty bowl and you’re set.

Minimize dishes

No one wants to be doing a bunch of dishes at the cottage, just as no one wants to be running around preparing a plethora of plates. The good old fashioned KISS rule—keep it simple, stupid—always applies when you’re hosting an outdoor fiesta. Focus on relaxing with your guests and serve them up a couple of thought-out salads or barbecued items that will win over their stomachs while minimizing your own workload.

Plan your beverages accordingly

Cold beverages on a patio or dock are a must, but no one wants to be running in and out of the cottage during a relaxing get-together. Avoid that hassle by busting out some big pitchers of water or a themed drink, and be sure to have an ice-filled cooler on hand for individual bottles and cans. Place it off to the side, and pop a recycling bin beside it so guests know where to put their empties.

Keep dessert on the lighter side

When you’re full and relaxed you have a tendency to get sleepy. Add in the penchant for alcohol at many of these functions, and that’s a recipe for an early night. Avoid weighing down your guests too much by offering up a lighter but seasonal dessert that will refresh their palates.

Fruit plates and light tarts are always a win, or keep on-theme by grilling up some fresh peaches, watermelon or pineapple slices. Serve any or all of them with a small scoop of ice cream and you’re all set to settle in and watch those beautiful stars appear one by one.