Host a dinner party under the California stars

Alfresco dining can mean a simple picnic-style affair in your Hollywood Hills home or an elaborate buffet in a Brentwood manse, but one thing remains the same -- dining outdoors is a refreshing escape from the day to day.

There's nothing quite like the simple pleasure of dining outdoors, especially when you're fortunate enough to live in California's climate. Hosting an alfresco dinner is a great option for entertaining friends in the L.A. area because the open–air atmosphere is instantly relaxing. All it takes is a little planning — and a few easy–to–prepare dishes — to set the stage for a meal that's delicious and fun. Inviting guests to combine pastas and sauces in creative ways and offering fresh herbs for seasoning sets a warm, communal tone that's sure to spark plenty of conversation. Artisanal dinnerware and accessories elevate the evening with an air that's rustic yet refined. Watch our video with award–winning wine expert Mark Oldman for JAQK Cellars California wine recommendations designed to work with any budget and pair perfectly with each dish.

Setting Up

When dining outdoors, choosing the right outdoor lighting is key for setting a relaxing mood. Illuminate the evening with a soft glow by suspending string lights from a pergola or from overhanging trees. Use our lanterns to hold candles for added ambience — or to display a showcase of seasonal objects.

Set the table in advance with high–quality dinnerware, glasses, linens and accessories. Choosing a mix of simple, neutral–hued dishes and more decorative, patterned dinnerware makes for a perfectly balanced presentation. For more ideas on setting up an outdoor party, watch our video with Pottery Barn Stylist Jeffery Moss.

Give guests a variety of dinner options to choose from by preparing a few different pasta dishes and several sauces ranging from a light, zesty pesto to a bold, flavorful marinara. Arranging the food on a separate side table allows guests to serve themselves easily. Consider labeling each dish with a handmade sign for a personalized touch. Signs can also be used to suggest ideas on how to pair pastas and sauces.

Play into the communal spirit of the evening by decorating the table with fresh potted herbs like oregano, rosemary and several varieties of basil. They'll add a pleasant aroma and color to the space, plus guests can help themselves to fresh sprigs right at the table, adding them to their dishes at will. Provide scissors labeled with a handmade nametag at each place setting for easy snipping.

Keep the drink menu simple by offering just one or two great wines — watch our video with wine expert Mark Oldman to learn about our favorites from California wine company JAQK Cellars. Serve wine directly from the bottle or in a beautiful wine decanter to fully bring out its flavor. Provide enough high–quality wine glasses to accommodate the number of guests you're expecting, and allow them to serve themselves. In addition to preparing the table for dining, it's a good idea to set up a side table for refreshing beverages. This area can double as a space for lounging and chatting over a glass of wine once the meal is completed.


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