Eating outside is one of our favourite things to do when the weather warms up. Who doesn’t love a veggie kebab or hot pizza from your very own outdoor eating area?
But hold on – is yours an embarrassment? Let’s spruce it up in one weekend.
Cleaning Your Outside Dining Furniture
Take a look at what you already own. If it’s still useable then clean it. Garden furniture can come up gleaming after a thorough clean. Check for damage as you go.
Choosing a Location For Your Outside Dining Area
Choose your eating area with consideration for neighbours. The sunniest spot might be next to their back door, but then BBQ smoke, cigarette smoke, and noise will fill their home. This does not make for good neighbourly relationships.
Choose an area away from your neighbour’s back door that catches the sun and is sheltered from the prevailing wind. If the best spot is a wind tunnel next weekend you could install screening – see the chapter Install Privacy Screens for help.
If you like to cook indoors and finish off outside then consider choosing a spot near the door so you can cut down on trips.
Or if the weather always catches you out consider a pop-up gazebo. Gazeboes can turn a party disaster into a date to remember simply by shielding guests from rain or scorching sun.
Fixing The Ground
Is it a muddy mess or are the paving slabs filthy? If so, follow one of the chapters above to perfect the lawn or clean your deck.
If you have a grassed eating area consider re-turfing or lay landscaping bark to create a neat and defined eating area. It’s best not to use an artificial lawn in a cooking area as heat or greasy spillages will ruin it.
Any plants or containers in this area need attention. No-one wants to eat near brambles or weeds so cut back overhanging greenery, weed the border, and re-fill your containers with sweet-smelling flowers or herbs that can be added to the cooking such as rosemary, basil, thyme, or chives.
You could add a few pots of mint to keep flies away (it’s also good in a mojito) or add bamboo to whisper in the wind.
Asses The Seating Situation
Seating is important in your eating area. A few cracked plastic chairs and a wobbly table do not feel inviting.
Invest in some decent garden furniture including a table big enough for your immediate family and enough chairs for extra guests. Consider matching storage boxes that double as seats.
If it’s just the two of you a bistro table might suit. If you have a big family or lots of friends then consider a garden table with cube seats that push beneath to maximise the space.
Children enjoy a smaller seating area just for them with bean bags and small tables with a parasol to keep the sun off.
Large gatherings of friends appreciate garden seats dotted around so they can break off for a cosy chat or simply get some peace. A garden bench with cushions under a flowering arch is perfect.
Do you rock the BBQ? Then find a decent one that can be stored away over winter and is easy to clean. If you’re certain the eating area won’t move you could consider building a brick BBQ.
If the area is on soil, lay some patio slabs to ensure the BBQ won’t subside. Use a spirit level to ensure the slabs are flat before building the BBQ.
Take the grilling tray and charcoal tray outside and place them on the ground where you intend to build the BBQ. Use them as guidelines for your structure, building the brick wall along their outer edges.
Lay the first layer of bricks around the grill pan leaving Chef’s standing spot open.
Mix up a sand and cement mix of four-parts sand to one-part cement, then spread the first layer of mortar adding more where it’s needed to achieve a flat surface.
Place your spirit level along the back spread of mortar so you can lay the bricks in a straight line.
Put down the first layer of bricks and check all sides are straight with the spirit level. Ensure the two angles are at 90 degrees.
Add the second layer of bricks ensuring they are staggered over the vertical gaps to the space of half a brick. Check this second layer is level on top and all sides before continuing.
Keep adding layers and checking with your spirit level until you get to seven courses high. Now, on the left and right hand walls turn three bricks so they are longways facing into the BBQ space. These will support your charcoals.
Carry on building and at your tenth course turn three bricks inward again. This will hold your grill pan.
Carry on for another two courses.
Run your finger or a piece of old garden hose along the cement joins to smooth the mixture and achieve that professional finish.
All these materials can be bought as a kit to make life easier but make sure you have a spirit level. No-one wants a wonky brick BBQ.
Of course, BBQs are not the only way to cook outside. Pizza ovens are very popular too. These can be bought in garden centres and online ranging from inexpensive portable ovens that sit on the BBQ to beautiful ovens that double as works of art.
Extras To Spruce Up Your Space
Once you have safe ground, enough comfy seating, and a way to cook your food its all about the extras.
A fire pit or patio heater can extend your evening into the twilight hours, and why not add some twinkling fairy lights along your fence line or suspended from the gazebo.
Solar lights that stick in the ground on a spike can help outline a safe path to your back door (that’ll be the toilet trip after too many beers!)
Some attractive outdoor placemats and plastic tumblers can really turn up the way your table looks, and prevent one broken glass in the landscaping bark ruining your whole evening.
And last but by no means least, a scented citronella candle will keep mosquitoes at bay.