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Creating the Perfect Outdoor Event

As the warm weather approaches, so too does the promise of outdoor entertaining and dining. Whether you are decorating your apartment balcony, your backyard patio or your waterfront dock, follow these simple tips for a no-fail, fabulous outdoor dining experience for both you and your guests:

1) Plates and place settings

Picking a color theme can give your tabletop a sophisticated and together appearance while allowing you the freedom to mix and match shades of the same color.

Don?t be afraid to use mismatched pieces, including cups, plates, napkins, silverware and even chairs or bigger pieces. Hunting for funky glassware can be easier and cheaper by visiting your local thrift store or flea market.

For a more formal table, consider individual place settings, complete with placemats, napkins, glassware and silverware, or go family style and stack your dishes, glassware and silverware in one location and allow your guests to set their place settings themselves.

No need to use the traditional red and white checkered, vinyl tablecloth for your outdoor functions. Instead, create your own gorgeous tablecloth by using a colorful bed sheet, or purchase fabric and create your own with a simple iron-on hem. Tie rocks or other heavy objects in the corners of your cloth for a quick and easy way to prevent it from blowing in the breeze.

For larger parties, tuck nametags into favors, napkins or hang them on the backs of the guest?s seating.

2) Decorating

Consider accenting flower arrangements with natural elements such as shells, rocks, or pinecones.

Carve a flat base and a hole in fruit for an instant candleholder.

Choose striking but simple centerpieces like tall flower vases with a single stem or an arrangement of fresh fruits and/or vegetables. Keep in mind that you don?t want your centerpiece to block anyone?s view from across a table.

Display unique personal items around your dining area such as family photographs, sports memorabilia, or decorative artwork. This will create authentic conversation pieces for your guests.

Supplement your outdoor furniture and decorative pieces with indoor items for a splash of elegance and sophistication. For example, bring indoor items such as area rugs, china, pillows and chairs to your outdoor space.

Create a beautiful and peaceful ambiance by placing a bubbling fountain nearby or by playing light background music.

3) Accommodating Children

If children will be dining separately from adults, decorate their table with butcher paper and crayons and allow to creatively themselves as they eat. Both can be purchased at teacher or art supplies stores. Keep crayons in little beach pails for easy access.

Consider serving finger foods on funky colored plasticware for a quick and easy cleanup. Serving food in playful pieces such as a beach bucket with shovel can make children feel recognized and add a bit of fun to the meal.

Offer plenty of kid-friendly outdoor games and activities in a safe but separate location.

4) Food servers

Be creative in your use of food receptacles and servers. Use pails, buckets, birdbaths, and a variety of mismatched servingware to present your food.

Use a wheelbarrow, a wagon or a children?s pool filled with ice to store and keep beverages cool.

Keep beverages on a rolling cart, separate from the dining or cooking areas and allow your guests to serve themselves.

Remember to place plenty of garbage receptacles around the dining area. Use containers such as flowerpots, metal buckets or pails rather than big plastic garbage cans.

5) Lighting

Create the perfect mood for your diners by strategically placing a variety of candle arrangements around your dining area.

Use lanterns, outdoor light strands and torches to set a more festive mood.

If your party moves into dusk, be prepared to transition your lighting as darkness falls.

Put lighting in unique places such as in trees and bushes, floating in water, around walkways or paths and spotlighting focal points in your yard. Don?t be afraid to experiment with lighting.

Be prepared for natural elements when planning your outdoor event. If you are eating during daylight, consider shading the area for sun and heat protection. Likewise, have available outdoor heating options such as patio heating or fireplaces. It is also a good idea to have readily available bug repellent and sunblock so that guests don?t have to ask for it. Finally, be able to move the party inside the house or a tent in the event of inclement weather.