The air is crisp. The firelight flickers. The Glühwein warms both the heart and the hands. Outdoor dining in winter can be magical. Here’s how to do it.
Make sure every guest has a blanket, preferably two – one to drape over their chair and one to tuck around their legs. Your first responsibility as a winter host is to make sure your guests keep warm. If you don’t have enough blankets, add a B.Y.O.B. note to your invitation – Bring Your Own Blanket!
Warm the table
The table could also do with a mat laid underneath to keep the chill off everyone’s feet. The table top, too, could do with a blanket laid over it, as well as a tablecloth. This provides a layer of insulation to keep food platters warm. And elbows too!
Ways to arm the air
Patio heaters are a great way to heat outdoor areas. As well as choosing between gas and electric heaters, there are table-height and overhead heaters to choose from. Also, small table-top and under-table heaters. The best modern heaters all stay cool to the touch and come with safety controls.
Of course the best way to keep guests warm is with an open air fireplace. The flicker of flames and the crackle of firewood are comforting all on their own. A purpose-built fireplace in a garden is a treasure. However, a fire pit or fire bowl full of crackling logs is just as bright and appealing. Nothing is more evocative of hospitality than providing fire for all to share.
Food is the heart of your alfresco winter bounty, be it a chicken hot pot or cauldron of chilli con carne. A one-pot dish, prepared beforehand, is the best kind of fare for winter entertaining outdoors. It keeps itself warm in the pot and allows you to sit at the table with your guests without dashing in and out of the kitchen. They’ll be happy to pass around platters of crusty bread or bowls of steaming rice. Then for after dinner, have an outdoor console set up with a tea urn or coffeemaker, and a dessert that can likewise be passed from hand to hand.
Candles on the table are a must for winter dining. Outdoors, they caste quite enough light to see and eat by, even without the help of the moon. Candles even generate a surprising amount of warmth. Most importantly they create that age old sense of coming together for a meal. Big chunky candles sheltered in glass lanterns will burn for while ever your guests linger.
A winter’s night, a hearty meal, and a cosy fire or just flickering candle flames. These are the ingredients for a magical meal your guests will long, long remember.… … …