How to Enjoy Al Fresco Dining in Winter
One of the many benefits of living in Southern California is the ability to use our outdoor living areas any month of the year. While we do get sweater weather and some areas get snow, it just takes a little attention to detail to enjoy al fresco dining and other outdoor gatherings in winter just as much as we do in summer.
As you gear up for the winter entertaining season, here are 10 tips that will help make your outdoor gatherings a success and help you make sure your guests are warm and comfortable no matter how late into the night the party goes.
1. Clean Your Gutters
Clean the gutters near doorways, walkways and outdoor living areas to make sure they are functioning properly. In the event of unexpected rain, this will help keep your guests dry and ensure that water is being directed away from these areas.
2. Check Your Landscape Lighting
If your landscape lighting is on a timer, you may need to adjust it. As the days grow shorter in winter, you will need lighting for walkways and outdoor living areas earlier in the evening. So, you may need to adjust your current outdoor lighting or consider adding more to help guide traffic and keep your guests safe after dark. While you are at it, check your task lighting in your outdoor kitchen as well. If you have been grilling all summer when the days were long, you may not have noticed that your grill or food prep area does not have adequate task lighting for the shorter days of winter.
3. Designate a Spot for Winter Weather Gear
If rain is in the forecast, be sure you have a designated spot where your guests can drop off umbrellas and wet coats upon arrival. If it is cold enough for gloves and scarves, make sure you have a spot where folks can conveniently drop off these items upon arrival and retrieve them before they leave.
4. Provide Throw Blankets and Slippers
If you are hosting a formal affair, your guests may not want to trade in their heels for slippers, but throw blankets are always welcome regardless of the theme or dress code. Set out baskets with throw blankets and slippers so that your guests have access to them without feeling obligated to use them. This is a great way to keep the atmosphere cozy and welcoming and to help keep your guests warm on colder winter nights.
5. Consider Installing Artificial Grass
Consider installing low-maintenance, artificial grass in and around outdoor entertaining areas. A wet, muddy lawn or walkways can ruin your party plans, but synthetic turf can be walked on right away and has no mud or wet blades of grass for your guests to slip on or track inside the house.
6. Invest in Patio Heaters
Patio heaters can be rented to help keep your guests warm during al fresco dinner parties but, if you are a frequent party host, it is worth it to invest in a few patio heaters to help heat your outdoor living areas. This is a great way to supplement the warmth from your fire pit or outdoor fireplace or to create multiple gathering areas where guests can congregate throughout your outdoor entertaining areas.
You can purchase portable heaters that can be stored when not in use, or you can install patio heaters that stay up all year and are always ready to go for impromptu gatherings.
7. Serve Winter Cocktails and Mocktails
Al fresco dining in winter calls for winter beverages. Mulled wine, hot cider, Irish coffee, and hot toddies are just a few options to consider. It is easiest to choose one or two options that will be signature cocktails or mocktails for your party. This way, you can stock your outdoor kitchen with just what you need for those drinks without having to set up a full bar. Some can also be made beforehand and served in beverage dispensers. For inspiration and recipes, check out 10 Winter Cocktails for Outdoor Entertaining.
8. Set Up a Coffee, Tea & Espresso Bar
Guests generally expect coffee to be made available with dessert. This is particularly true for winter al fresco dining. So, rather than going inside to make and serve coffee, you can instead set up a coffee, tea, and espresso bar in your outdoor kitchen. This way, your guests can select warm, winter beverages and serve themselves throughout the evening.
A coffee urn or coffeemaker that produces pots of coffee will allow more quests to be served quicker. They can then add amaretto, whiskey, sugar and cream, or whip cream and fun toppings to make their coffee more festive.
You will also need a hot water dispenser for hot chocolate and teas. And, if you really want to upgrade your outdoor kitchen, you might also consider an espresso machine.
A pod coffeemaker produces more waste, but they are super convenient for offering your guests a variety of hot beverage options that can be made quickly. If you choose a pod coffeemaker for your outdoor kitchen, you can easily offer a variety of beverages, including coffee, espresso, tea, cider, and hot chocolate that can all be made with this one device.
However you choose to produce and serve your drinks, make sure you have all the additions your guests might want on a cold winter night, such as sugar, cream, non-dairy creamer, honey or agave nectar, conventional and non-dairy whipped cream, chocolate chips, marshmallows, and cinnamon sticks.
9. Install Patio Curtains
Patio curtains are a relatively inexpensive, multi-functional upgrade for covered outdoor living areas. Outdoor curtains enhance privacy, add a bit of elegance to the space, block light wind and rain, and help to hold in the heat from your fire feature or patio heaters. Be sure that chimeneas, patio heaters, barbecue grills, fire pits, and outdoor fireplaces are all a safe distance from your curtains.
10. Use Your Fire Features
Fire features, such as an outdoor fireplace, fire pit or chimenea, create a cozy, welcoming atmosphere for al fresco dining in winter. This is a good way to heat outdoor living areas on cold days and to provide a place for your guests to gather and chat around the fire. If you have a wood-burning fire feature, you can even make s’mores a part of the evening by providing marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars, and roasting sticks for your guests to use.
Here are three essential sources you should read when preparing to use your fire pit or outdoor fireplace this winter: