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How to set an outdoor table

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed. is a personal trainer, freelance writer and entrepreneur who works with a wide variety of fitness clients. She's the founder of the popular website, - Girls Gone Sporty, and she's the host of the High Impact Blogg...

Warm weather dining ideas

There’s nothing quite like enjoying the fresh air while dining outdoors with family and friends. If you want to throw a dinner party on your patio, but you’re not quite sure how to set an outdoor table, follow these tips to make the experience memorable.

Spring table

1Pick an outdoor theme

When dining in nature, you want to keep your decorations in line with the surroundings. Your theme should include natural decorations like fruit, flowers, grass, hay or sand and seashells. Several themes that work well for outdoor dining include:

  • Fun sandcastle: Use buckets of sand, sand toys and seashells to decorate the table
  • Summery yellow: Incorporate lemons and sunflowers into your place settings and centerpieces
  • A western affair: Use hay bales as seats, bandanas as napkins and a cowboy hat as the base of your centerpiece
  • Evening elegance: Use ferns as a table runner and white flowers of your choice as the centerpiece.

2Start neutral

When you choose neutral linens in whites, creams or tans, you can easily adjust your place settings and centerpieces for outdoor parties throughout the year. Your outdoor table should have a high-quality cloth or plastic tablecloth and a cloth napkin for every guest.

3Maritime place settingRun with it

Every outdoor table should have a theme-appropriate table runner to set the stage for your party. Your table runner doesn't have to be traditional, though. You can use leaves, flower petals, bandanas, seashells or napkins to create a runner-esque look.

4Charge ahead

Under every place setting should be a placemat or charger. Like the runner, you don't have to use a traditional placemat or charger, but you should use this piece as an opportunity to incorporate your theme. For instance, if you used the "fun sandcastle" theme, you could spread a fine layer of sand over the top of a colorful charger.

5Ditch the disposable

You may think that paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils are the way to go when dining outdoors, but high-quality plastic ware will last years and is more environmentally friendly. If you plan on using and reusing your outdoor dishes, choose a neutral color or style so you can adjust themes easily.

6Build a beautiful centerpiece

Every outdoor table should have a centerpiece, and depending on the length of the table, you may need several centerpieces placed intermittently. Regardless of your theme, start building your centerpiece with clear, glass vases. You can fill them with flowers, sand, whole fruit or candles.

7Set the stage

When setting your table, make sure you have a plate, glass and utensils for every guest. Place several clear carafes on the table to dispense water, tea or lemonade to your guests, then allow them to choose other beverages from a secondary drink location. If you'll be dining as the light dims, make sure you have candles, garden torches, lanterns or another light source near the table so that guests will be able to see each other as they dine.

More table setting tips

A Nantucket garden party: Setting the table

Host Debi Lilly is on Nantucket and shares tips and tricks to setting an outdoor table.

6 Must-haves for spring parties

More tips for spring

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Get your backyard ready for spring
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