Al Fresco How To: Ingredients for a Wonderful Impromptu Outdoor Meal

updated Mar 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

It’s the time of year when one wants to throw open the doors and bask in the fresh, warm air. Neighborhood restaurants and cafés have set out their patio gear, and they’re consistently filled with people enjoying the weather. This sidewalk experience is great, but I also love dining al fresco at home, with simple food and good friends. If you’re like me, you haven’t yet had a chance to set up your own outdoor space, but don’t let that stop you from making the most of the season.

There are a few key considerations necessary for impromptu outdoor dining: Seating, Setting, Food, and Guests.


If you don’t have patio furniture, don’t fret! If it’s feasible, transport your dining table and chairs (or other ad hoc pieces of furniture with ample dining surface) outdoors. A simple table cloth can help protect furniture while it’s temporarily out in the elements.

If that’s too much hassle, impromptu picnics can be just as entertaining. There’s the traditional blanket route, which is the fastest and easiest option. But if you’re looking for a bit more comfort on hard surfaces like decking or concrete, these cheap and easy oilcloth throw pillows are wonderful to have on hand:

• How To: Simple Outdoor Pillows


Tableware: As with the furniture, don’t be afraid to let indoor elements move outdoors. Guests will appreciate the “fine-dining” experience of using normal dishes, glassware, and utensils al fresco, and you won’t be tasked with having to purchase disposable plates and cups.

Lighting: Lighting is one of the most necessary elements of outdoor dining. Who wants to sit in the dark, blindly eating? Take the opportunity to build a little bit of simple, affordable ambiance, either by quickly stringing up some spare Christmas lights or littering the space with candles. (To avoid a fiery fiasco, place them in spare jars or glasses.)

• Outdoor Lighting Inspiration: Use Lots of Jars
• Mood-Setting Outdoor Lighting

Music: When moving outdoors, one obviously has to be considerate of the neighbors, and if one wants a serene communing with nature, then added noise may not be appropriate. But it’s undeniable that music is an important atmospheric element, capable of radically changing a dining experience. And with the help of an iPad, a laptop, portable speakers, or even a radio, you can take advantage of the added ambiance outdoors.

Do You Play Music at Your Dinner Parties?
• The Good & the Bad of Online Music Platforms
• Links to Free Music Samplers: Tech Deals of the Week for 04.13.12

Ward off Nuisances: Nothing will ruin a pleasant outdoor setting faster than a dose of mosquitoes. We’ve discussed a number of ways to keep pests at bay here on Apartment Therapy, so given what materials you have handy, you have a number of impromptu options for bug repellents:

• Household Pest Control: 5 Natural Bug Repellents
Natural Mosquito Repellent
• Mosquito Repellents for the Home
• A Simple Fan is Your Best Mosquito Repellent
Catnip as Green Mosquito Repellent?
• How to Make Your Own DIY Mosquito Repellent Device


When you decide to make the move outdoors, the last thing you probably want is to spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing your outdoor menu. Sometimes the impromptu dining decision calls for impromptu food preparation as well, and luckily, The Kitchn has an array of recipes for simple, fresh foods that take minimal time to assemble.

• Last-Minute Appetizers for Unexpected Guests
• Best Quick, Last-Minute Pasta Recipe
• Last-Minute Peach and Yogurt Ice Cream
More Last-Minute Recipes


Maybe it will be just you or you and your partner that partake in your outdoor dinner, but in case you want to make it a livelier gathering, here are some tips for making your home party-ready on the fly:

• The Spontaneous Invitation: 3 Tips for Last-Minute Hospitality
5 Tips to Make Your House Appear Cleaner than it Is
• 8 Easy Last-Minute Table Decor Ideas


(Image: Bethany Nauert for Apartment Therapy)