Make a summer meal an alfresco experience with a few easy tips.
Outdoor dinning table and place setting
Credit: Jonn Coolidge

Set the mood. A plain discount-store folding table (which you can reuse on holidays if your dining-room table can't accommodate all your guests) becomes an elegant tableau for a midsummer night's meal when covered with a crisp white cotton tablecloth.

Elevate the ordinary. Instead of cut flowers, use clay pots planted with fragrant herbs (such as rosemary and thyme) and hardy annuals (such as white geraniums and impatiens) for centerpieces all summer long. Create pedestals for the pots out of inexpensive cylinder vases (left over from Mother's Day bouquets or bought at yard sales).

Sit pretty. An eclectic assortment of chairs―borrowed from inside your house or from neighbors―seems like a matched set when they all wear the same comfortable seat cushions, which will encourage lingering over dessert.

Recycle and refresh. Instead of serving tap water in pitchers, use bottles that originally held wine or sparkling water. But first remove the labels by soaking them in hot water for about 20 minutes.

Dish it up. Pretty dish towels make chic and casual napkins when the menu includes messy foods such as ribs, burgers, corn on the cob, or watermelon.