How to Cook and Dine Al Fresco This Summer

4 steps to creating the ultimate outdoor dining experience

Summer is nearly upon us, and what better way to enjoy the warming weather than by dining outside? You needn’t go farther than your own outdoor space to truly enjoy the perks of dining al fresco. Somehow, everything tastes better outside, whether it’s breakfast in the morning sun, afternoon nibbles on the patio or an evening in your backyard grilling with friends. It’s an easy habit to love—and one worth nurturing. Here, a few how-to tips.

Create Your Space

Start from the ground up

A level, durable outdoor dining floor will pay off in spades. Not only will it keep your outdoor furniture and BBQ from sinking, but it can also create a natural flow from the inside of your home to the outside.

Bring the indoors out

Unless your kitchen is nearby, you may want to consider adding some of these elements to your outdoor dining space. This can be as simple as using a kitchen trolley to keep needed items like a cutting board or extra towels nearby, or something as luxurious as a built-in kitchen equipped with a sink and beverage fridge. Oftentimes, outdoor kitchens provide more versatility than an indoor one because you don’t have to worry about smoke permeating your living room. And options for appliances move beyond the standard oven or stove. Serious foodies can create the kitchen of their dreams with a pizza oven, smoker or oversize grill to feed the entire neighborhood.

Say no to the sun

Protection from the sun is essential, and shade from garden foliage sometimes isn’t enough. An umbrella that adjusts to the angle of the sun is helpful. Or, better yet, a pergola can truly add value to any outdoor space, providing a decorate accent in addition to shade.

Grow a chef-worthy herb garden

Freshly snipped basil in a caprese salad, garden-grown mint muddled into a mojito, fragrant thyme to season grilled steak — nothing adds brightness and flavor to a dish like just-picked herbs. Your outdoor kitchen and backyard bar is the perfect place to nurture an herb garden. It needn’t be big. Start with small pots of essential, easy-to-grow herbs like sage, parsley, oregano, mint, coriander, rosemary, basil and chives.

Establish the Mood

Set the tone, set the table

Simple, rustic or chic, nothing quite sets the tone of a meal outside like your tablescape. First things first: Consider what’s on the menu. An elegant dinner begs for a tablecloth and cloth napkins, whereas butcher paper is perfect for a barbecue or crab cookout. Melamine, paper or bamboo dishes are a safe option, and a vase of flowers always adds charm.

Turn the lights down low

Dining al fresco in the evening is the perfect way to make you feel like you’re on vacation. Bistro lights strung from your pergola, hurricane candles on the table and tea lights placed throughout add the type of tranquil ambiance that instantly washes away daily stress.

Drinks on the house

A separate bar area is a nice way to entice your friends and family to spread out instead of hovering around the grill. Create a DIY station where guests mix their own cocktails. Provide plenty of ice and colorful garnishes like sliced citrus and berries.

Let the music sing

Music is the subtle bow that ties the entire evening together. Pick a playlist or station that complements the theme of the evening, and let it sing. Consider outdoor speakers for a professional appeal.

Stick With Simple Recipes … Try These!

Grilled Stuffed Tomatoes

You’ll Need:

6 vine-ripened Apollo or Better Boy Tomatoes
6 tbsp olive oil
4 cup Baby Bella Mushrooms
6 peeled shallots
4 zucchini
1 cup ricotta or shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tbsp fresh parsley
2 tbsp fresh basil
Salt & Pepper


1. Set BBQ grill to medium-hot heat or preheat outdoor oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grill mushrooms, shallots, zucchini until soft and lightly charred.
3. Dice parsley, basil, and grilled vegetables; mix together and set aside.
4. Slice off tops of tomatoes, hollow out gently with spoon (1-2 spoonfuls only).
5. Mash tomato pulp with fork or pestle and fold into diced veg and spices.
6. Spoon mixture into tomatoes, place tomatoes on pizza peel or in baking pan.
7. Roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, remove and top with mozzarella or 1 spoonful of ricotta.
8. Roast for 2 mins, remove and serve!

DIY Panini Bar

You’ll Need:

Bread: focaccia, rye, pumpernickel, challah

Cheese: gruyere, young cheddar, brie, comte

Meats: prosciutto, bacon, pepperoni

Garnishes: oven dried tomatoes,
garden basil, pesto sauce

Digs & Jams: Fig, cranberry relish,
olive tapenade

Spices: sea salt, rosemary, paprika


1. Apply cooking spray or butter to inside of pie irons.
2. Cut bread to fit pie irons (typically 5×5 or 9×5).
3. Spread butter or olive oil generously to both sides of each slice of bread.
4. Add cheese to top and bottom bread slices and add sandwich toppings and garnishes.
5. Place sandwich inside pie iron, tightly close clasp and place on grill for 3-5 minutes.
6. Remove pie iron from grill, open clasp and lift up one side of iron
7. Safely remove sandwich from iron, slice in half and enjoy with your favorite dip or as is!

Consult the Professionals

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Designed around you

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Easy as pie

System Paver’s online design discovery makes it easier than ever before to create the outdoor oasis you’ve always wanted. You can access the online discovery session on the go or at home, allowing complete flexibility with your schedule.

Every step of the way

From the initial design concept to installation and completion, your team of experts will guide your project every step of the way to ensure that you get the outdoor space of your dreams.

Get your Free Personal Architectural Design*

*Certain project types do not qualify for a free architectural design, in which case our design consultant can provide the necessary design input.

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