Megan Gilger, co-founder of the creative studio Wild Measure, isn't afraid of entertaining in the elements. In fact, she prefers it. "I love being out in nature," says the Michigan native. "As dinner lingers on into sunset, the stars come to life and the candles flicker...it's magic."
For the past two years, Gilger and her husband, Mike, have hosted a series of outdoor dinner parties called A Simple Evening, which they document on their blog, The Fresh Exchange. After dealing with everything from tick infestations to sudden rainstorms, she's learned that the most important part of outdoor entertaining is being able to roll with the punches.
I've collaborated with Megan on multiple dinners, so I know she's a pro when it comes to hosting al fresco. I asked her to share some of her best tips.
It's all about the lighting. "Stock up on tea lights from Ikea (they're the cheapest I've found) and collect glassware for candles in various sizes from garage sales and thrift stores. Strung bistro lights are fun if you nab them on after-Christmas sales. We also love tiki torches," she says.
Keep the table settings simple. "White dishes are everything—they really let the food shine. We pick fresh flowers or ask a guest to pick some up on the way. Napkins have ranged from Ikea dishcloths to hand painted ones by a friend. We have also used a paint-splattered dropcloth for a tablecloth. It is amazing what you can pull together to make an evening outside look beautiful."
Kitchen optional. "If you're not close to a kitchen, serve picnic-style food, where temperature is not as important. Or ask each person to bring a dish, so you don't have to worry about serving courses."
Ice, ice, baby. "Always have ice on hand and find a watertight container that has some style. Anything from a metal tub to a wheelbarrow can do the trick. Drop in ice and pop in your drinks."
Make some music. "We sometimes host dinners at places that don't have electricity (or at least not an outlet near the table), but music is important. In Nashville, we had professional musicians jamming, which was pretty amazing, but we typically use a battery-charged Bluetooth music player like Jambox."
Bugs be gone. "Always have bug spray and citronella on hand. In Raleigh, we had massive tick issues because we were on a farm, so we spread blankets on the ground for everyone to sit on during dinner, and we warned everyone ahead of time to do a thorough check afterward. We all walked away tick free!"