Al Fresco Entertaining.

snack timeSo, the forecast is good. I don’t know about you but whenever we have good weather for a few days by the time I get around to organising having people over to dine al fresco, it rains. Well no excuses this week! I could hardly believe my ears on Monday when listening to the radio. The forecaster actually said she could Predict Pretty Perfect weather for the coming week. (in the world I live in PPP usually means Public Private Partnership and not the above. Forever more I will think of this glorious week when I hear those letters!) So, if you haven’t invited anyone over, do so now. Then all you need to do is a little planning to set the scene.

lavander night

When it comes to outdoor space I tend to think in terms of the same multi-tasking spaces that I wrote about last week: kitchen (BBQ area) Dining area and seating area, that way there is a relaxing area for pre and post-dinner drinks as well as the eating area. Whether you are having a casual family meal, entertaining with style, a kid’s picnic or afternoon tea a little bit of planning can go a long way.

rear garden after

Multi-tasking outdoor space

So this is my list of things to do and items that need to be decided and acted upon…

1. Put the wine in the fridge and/or beer on ice…

drinks on ice

 2. Decide what type of look you are going for. Casual or sophisticated? Don’t get me wrong. It’s always going to be stylish. It’s just whether it’s casual and stylish or sophisticated and stylish or somewhere in between. This will then help with your selection for the rest of the items.

pincic time

Picnic time! Fabric from Ikea, cushions from Dunnes Stores

 3. Tablecloth or runner or both? Or mats? Or chargers for under plates?

When eating outside we are often being casual but it’s really very simple to create something a little more special with a simple white tablecloth and runner. From paper to linen here are some examples of how to achieve a classic but stylish look.

linen runner

Runners can be used either down the length of the table or running width ways. Linen accessories have a lovely laid back feel, perfect for outdoors, keeping your crisply ironed cotton for indoor use.

paper runner1

Here I used crepe paper as a runner teamed with stripy paper napkins showing (I think) that paper can be a stylish but inexpensive option.

paper runner

Here a toile paper runner is used. This one came on a roll and can be re-used several times. Blue Jigsaw, a textile company supply a range of table runners on a roll, 15cm wide and 20m long, in a range of colours to suit whatever scheme you want. Details below. Another company called can customise your table runner to suit any length or width you require in a variety of fabrics.


My collection of table runners!

 4. Flowers: essential items! Decide on what type of flowers and what vessel to put them in. A large vase, a small bowl or just a simple jug. As with everything else you have to decide what the mood you are trying to create is. It could be a fab arrangement or just a few sprigs from the garden. A quick tip: if you don’t have lavender in your garden or patio. Next time you see it for sale pick it up, stick it in a pot or in the ground and by this time next year you will be cutting it to create a simple but appealing display.

navy runner

lace table runner

Here a central flower display is kept low to allow conversation across it. It is teamed with a grey lace runner from Meadows and Byrne.

a deux 2!

Dinner a deux! For a special occasion simply move your indoor furniture out. Here a bistro style table is covered with a tablecloth and adorned with a blue glass vase containing a small sprig of lavender, offset with a blue candle and white linen napkins.

 5. Cutlery. Plastic spoons stuck in an old tomato tin can look great, everyday ones wrapped in napkins and placed in a basket for self service or the good stuff, the choices are endless. Same for delph and glasses.

white linen napkins

 cloth napkins

 6. Napkins. Another great way to set the scene. Lots of colour or plain white? Tied with ribbon or simply folded. You can be casual and classy with both paper and cloth napkins. Just because you use paper doesn’t mean it’s ultra-casual. We recently had a French exchange student to stay. She said she collected paper napkins and asked if could take some away with her. She underestimated whose house she came to and went home with half a suitcase of them! Meadows and Byrne and the Tiger shop have a great selection of both paper and cloth.

paper napkins

It’s not just table runners that come on a roll. You can now also get crisp linen disposable napkins which come perforated on a roll and can be torn off as needed. They can be washed and reused up to 5 times. These are a great alternative to paper napkins but are also stylish enough for entertaining. Available from Scarlett Willow, details below. Mydrap Cotton napkins are also come on a roll and are available in a range of colours from Divertimenti together with a large range of other tableware. Website details below.

napkins on a roll

Mydrap napkins on a roll.

 7. Cushions. I have a bunch of plain white cushions that came with our outdoor seating set. I store these in the garage and then when I want to dress them up I raid cushions from the rest of the house to go with the flowers, candles, napkins etc.

pink candles

For me it’s like putting together an outfit, what shoes with what dress, only better!

 8. Lighting. As with an indoor room, good lighting is essential. Even before it gets dark candles can be used to create and set the tone whether is funky bright colours or sophistication you are after. They can really work with the colour scheme of the flowers too. More and more we are seeing solar powered lights and ethanol feature lights as well. A fire pit can  prolong an evening when the chill sets in.

table for 6 night

A parasol is great for keeping the table in the shade during the day. String fairy lights through it to create instant atmosphere at night. It rules out using a table cloth though so you will have to use table mats or plate chargers.

 9. So, there you have it. In my opinion a beautifully dressed table can be the making of a meal whether it’s a casual get together or a dinner party. Luckily we are no longer required to starch the napkins or polish the silver. Now it’s all about making the most of what we’ve got from whatever location in the house. Here, I hope I have shown you that with a collection of simple tableware teamed with some well-chosen decorative elements you can make any occasion special. Once you have chosen all your stuff and arranged the setting all you need to do is open that bottle, take your shoes off and enjoy the occasion…

final photo

 (of course the menu is a whole different story )

Shopping list

By foot…

If you haven’t got your outdoor furniture yet get to Cloonan’s Hardware, William Street, Tullamore, Co.Offaly for a fantastic range of garden furniture!

Stock, 33-34 South William Street, Dublin 2 for a wide range of tableware.

Tiger Stores, now have 6 stores in the greater Dublin area. Large range of inexpensive paper napkins and candles (check out for locations, not a web shop)

Meadows and Byrne, Cork, Dublin and Galway for a large range of paper and cloth tablecloths, runners, napkins and candles.

Dunnes Stores nationwide for a great range of candles of all sizes and colours.

Avoca now have 10 stores across Ireland. Check out for locations.

On the web… for a range of chic placemats, and runners. for any size table runner customised to suit you. for disposable linen napkins on a roll. for detachable, Mydrap 100% cotton napkins on a roll amongst other stuff. for creating atmosphere with outdoor lighting from firepits to ethanol lights. for dunicel table runner, 15cm wide and supplied in 20m rolls suppliers of a beautiful range of Swedish table linens to interior design shops throughout Ireland.

6 thoughts on “Al Fresco Entertaining.

  1. Hi Nicki,
    Delighted by what I see here. For my sins, I tend to put the effort into getting the bit that I will be photographing looking right. I rarely give any attention to the diners. Perhaps I need to modify my behaviour?

  2. Hi Nicki,
    Have to say I really enjoyed this blog and found it particularly helpful.
    Superb photos and great tips!

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