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Creative Summer Table Settings

Outdoor fetes demand creative centerpieces, particularly if you’re entertaining to a theme. Happily, there’s no need to spend a fortune, during blooming spring and summer evenings. Even the least expensive homemade items look festive, from mini Mason jars holding homemade lemonade in a country-themed dinner to an all-green-themed spring dinner, with a green centerpiece (or several) plucked from your own garden and doing double duty as decoration and seasoning. Here are some ideas:

  1. Try a festive Moroccan theme

    Moroccan parties are relaxed and breezy, and the effect couldn’t be easier to duplicate at home. Load the patio with pillows and fabrics (make sure to have some floor cushions around for lounging) and don’t worry about being matchy – you’re going for a bohemian effect. Torches and pressed tin lanterns add to the effect, as does a simple outdoor fire pit. Bring out some low tables; you can even bring the indoor coffee table out. Do a simple menu of meat and vegetables on skewers, and lots of communal goodies, like dips. Plus, pluck lots of mint from the garden and make homemade mint tea with boiling water and lots of sugar for after dinner.

  2. Create an outdoor oasis

    Create a summer oasis from the sun, outdoor pests, and chilly nights by shading the patio with a giant umbrella – or even a portable fabric gazebo – to start off your summer party while the sun is still up. Hang lanterns from your shelter for when the sun goes down (consider flameless LED candles inside for safety) to illuminate your dinner. Surround your oasis with citronella candles to keep pests away. If you want to try a fire pit to keep guests warm as the chill sets in, consider burning a wood like juniper or pine that’s a natural insect repellent.

  3. Make a Low Country boil

    Nothing is as festive or fun as eating with your hands, but you don’t have to live in the coastal Carolinas or in New England to make a Low Country boil or traditional New England clambake. Dress up your picnic table with a red and white checked (wipe-off or disposable) tablecloth – or just piles of newsprint for authenticity. Get a good recipe for a crab or crawfish boil (they usually include sausage, potatoes, corn and lots of seafood, cooked in one giant kettle). If you’re ready to get your hands really dirty, drain the mix and overturn it right on the table for people to help themselves with their hands. Not as adventurous? Use galvanized metal buckets both for serving and for discarding shells.

  4. Go green

    Your party doesn’t always need a theme; sometimes a color scheme is just enough. A fun way to harvest your herbs is to use them in big bunches in jars or wood boxes as a table centerpiece (make sure they’re washed), letting guests break off pieces of dill, mint, oregano and parsley to season their foods. Have big bowls of salad on hand with a neutral dressing; big chunks of herbs will go beautifully in it. A few minor investments, like green fabric napkins can dress up an otherwise natural decorating scheme – like a burlap table cloth (buy it in rolls at the hardware store).

  5. Go country

    Stage a hoedown party that still has plenty of high design elements. Paisley bandanas can serve as napkins and/or placemats; railroad lanterns and big Mason jars full of sunflowers create a brilliant table setting; galvanized buckets are perfect for holding ice and glass-bottled drinks. If you don’t have enough seating, visit a local farm; bales of hay make perfect extra chairs.

Creative Summer Table Settings

Make sure you check with guests about their allergies, particularly if you’re throwing a hoedown-themed party. Guests might be allergic to stray weeds within hay bales. Look for alternatives if your guests have sensitivities.