If you're going for formality, skip the disposable plates, say our experts.
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outdoor place setting with yellow tablecloth
Credit: Courtesy of Houses and Parties

Summer is the ultimate season for outdoor entertaining, and after a year without gatherings, there is something undoubtedly special about this particular period. Match the moment by hosting an elevated soirée for your nearest and dearest, and set a table that speaks to the celebratory vibe. Just remember that doing so requires a little more than smoothing out pretty linens and lining your tablescape with florals: Take the time to curate each attendee's place setting to kick your party's guest experience level up a notch. To help you put together each spot, we tapped three experts, who shared their insights, ahead.  

Use china or ceramic plates.

"Hosting a dinner outside is no excuse for paper plates. It's a party!" says Rebecca Gardner, the founder of Houses and Parties. "Use your treasures and the effort will shine onto your guests." Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch—the owners of the Southampton-based home boutique Hidden Gem New York—agree, noting that "going the extra mile with china or ceramic" dishware is the best course of action. And if you are nervous about using an expensive set outdoors? Consider melamine pieces, like these botanical ones from Martha's own collection ($34.49, wayfair.com), which look (and oftentimes feel) like the real thing.

Consider your colorways.

The first step towards curating the ultimate summertime place settings requires establishing a color story. According to Gardner, this is the season for unabashed color play; she recommends working with hot pink, yellow, and orange, which "seem full of sunshine." Look towards the water, as opposed to the sky, for an alternative take, notes Willock and Willock-Morsch. "Some of our favorite color combinations are green, blue, orange, and white, a vibrant combination of colors found at the beach," they say, adding that they are just as partial to a few of Gardner's picks. "Or, consider pinks, oranges, blues, and creams, which are found in one of our favorite tropical flowers: Birds of paradise."

Work with several textures—and consider festive motifs.

Treat curating a place setting like designing a room, notes Gardner: "Your table should have a balance of textures," she explains. Willock and Willock-Morsch love to mix and match mediums to keep things visually interesting and playful; consider lightweight woven linens, rattan, and wood. "These work together to give the perfect summertime vibe," they say. And to make each setting a bit more festive? "I like to put a party cracker at each spot," adds Gardner. "These pieces from my shop ($98, housesandparties.com) are wrapped with marbled Italian paper and silk dip-dye ribbons. Each has a parlor game prompt, like 'Perform a drum solo with your fork and knife.' They keep guests on their toes."

blue tablescape with colorful plates
Credit: Courtesy of Hidden Gem New York

Choose place setting items with care.

Though your settings will likely vary based on formality—and should depend on the cuisine you are serving—there are three essentials you shouldn't skip, note the Hidden Gem founders. These include plates, cutlery, and glassware. The extras are up to you, but all of our experts suggest working some paper into the mix. Adding menus or name cards are wonderful touches, say Willock and Willock-Morsch; Gardner prefers the "Superlatives" place cards from Dear Annabelle ($60 for 24, dearannabelle.com). "They are an excellent ice breaker," she says of the interactive notes.

Get personal or consider some extras.

"It's all in the details," say Willock and Willock-Morsch. To make menus or place cards feel more bespoke, turn them into a DIY project with watercolor paper and paint, they note; it makes each piece personal to your guests. "If painting isn't your thing, use fun napkin rings or even your favorite ribbons tied with herbs or a mini dried flower bouquet for your guests to take home." Similarly, Gardner appreciates those little extras: "This could be colorfully wrapped candy, vines twisting around the glasses, or plastic animal toys peeking from behind the petals. I like tables that are layered with surprises and joy."

Don't forget about flowers.

While flowers are part of the overarching tablescape, they impact place settings through proximity, so be sure to choose your blooms wisely; overdoing it in the floral department could cause an overwhelming sensory experience or crowding. "Anchor your table with large arrangements—one for a round, two for a rectangle—and then mix in smaller bud vases," advises Gardner. "Alternately, summer is the time to decorate with potted geraniums. They have a vibrant color and marvelous smell."


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