It’s almost time to dine and entertain outdoors. Warmer days are ahead!

At this time of year, I often ruminate over how I’ll use my patio. This summer, I’m focusing on entertaining. Instead of hitting up a crowded city patio, I’ll invite friends and family over for casual hangouts. On the menu: iced lattes and smoothies, easy and quick dinners and no-nonsense hors d’oeuvres over wine.

I’ve cleaned the deck and added hearty potted plants. Now comes the fun part: decorating with the right furnishings and cheery accessories and devising a delicious, but effortless, meal plan. Essentially, I’m after my own stylish backyard café — and this one won’t require downloading an app, praying to get a seat at a busy establishment or ingesting car exhaust fumes over appetizers. We can just linger into the night at our leisure.

Step 1: Set the stage .

In an outdoor setting, it’s nice to be both comfortable and formal enough to enjoy a meal. On smaller patios and balconies, I never like to be restricted with one large, long or roundtable. When not used for dining, they hog space. Opt for two or three smaller tables.

Push them together for dining with a large group, or break them up and scatter them, then top with small bites and drinks. Feel like eating family style? Line up two or three square tables, and then set up food stations.

I’ve got my eye on the homestyle Skyler sectional set ($798, Walmart). It’s three separate seating pieces and a perfect-size table to fit into the corner of a small patio. Combine two sets to create a large, lounge effect on a roomier terrace. The cocktail-table height allows for easy eating, yet is low enough for lounging with drinks without sitting at a formal height.

The mixture of greys and golds play into every neutral trend in outdoor furniture this year. On-trend colours, style and flexible table height at a great price? Who’s coming for dinner?

Step 2: Serve up durable table style.

Each spring I haul out my stash of “outdoor serving ware.” It’s made up of melamine, acrylic and metal trays and dishes. I always inspect the table linens and napkins for stains and frayed edges (then toss them).

This year’s big trend is monochromatic colour with co-ordinating tabletop pieces. Think sunny yellow on yellow pieces, or my personal favourite: a great collection of Mediterranean blue melamine tableware items at HomeSense . The wine glasses are an affordable $15 for a set of four and bring an on-trend splash of colour to the table. Blue, green and yellow (as noted) are hot for spring. I like durable melamine because it doesn’t chip or break and still looks as smart as the real thing.

Step 3: Create an easy, winning menu.

I love cooking for friends, but it takes planning, time and money. And while I prefer to spend time socializing at home, the effort sometimes outweighs the enjoyment. Since many of my get-togethers are in the summer evenings, I’ve decided on fancy beverages — non-alcohol cocktails are all the rage for summer — and hearty hors d’oeuvres.

Serving four to six hors d’oeuvres per person can equal a meal and offer variety. This pleases vegetarians and meat eaters alike. My go-to for prepared hors d’oeuvres is M&M Food Market . I grew up with the frozen, prepared-meal company and am pleased they have casual, tasty restaurant-quality hors d’oeuvres, starting at around $11 per serving of four. Bacon wrapped shrimp, chipotle barbecue chicken flatbread and calamari rings can be heated at home without the fuss of chopping, assembling and kitchen clean up. Warm on the barbecue (or heat in the kitchen then use the barbecue as a warming oven) and allow guests to pick and choose from a host of tasty snacks.

Bonus: stock up weeks in advance — they are frozen so no last-minute shopping for impromptu parties in the backyard this summer. Simply visit the freezer — dining alfresco has never been made easier!

Do you have a decor dilemma or want more decor inspiration? Follow Karl on Instagram at @Karl_ Lohnes.

2023-05-13T06:32:30Z dg43tfdfdgfd