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PA Photo/Handout

PA Photo/Handout

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Eating outdoors is one of summer’s special pleasures. Gabrielle Fagan reveals how to set a perfect table for al fresco feasts

Sunny days and sultry nights cry out for meals eaten outdoors, and the setting - whether sheltering under the canopy of a tree or gazing up at the stars - can ensure every al fresco occasion is special.

All eyes will be drawn to the table, and its decoration can work marvels on the atmosphere and enhance the enjoyment of the food.

It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. All you have to do is pick a theme - either a colour or decor effect - then plunder the huge array of attractive and practical outdoor tableware ranges.

“This summer, we’re seeing a shift away from the playful colours and geometric patterns seen in trends from the last few seasons, and instead a growing popularity for a more grown-up, elegant feel,” says designer, Nina Campbell.

“This reflects our increasing use of the garden or patio as a year-round outdoor room, where we want to entertain in many different ways - not just for picnic-style informal gatherings, but also for sophisticated occasions.” John Lewis also confirms that trend, reporting an 11 per cent increase in sales of melamine tableware suitable for outdoors.

So turn your attention to the table and then sit back and bask in the compliments.

Blue and white’s the perfect combination for an ocean-inspired table top, and instantly conjures a breezy beside-the-sea atmosphere.

“Vibrant blues and turquoises flow into bright aqua and emerald greens to create a sense of serenity for an ocean-inspired table setting,” says Emma Mann, head of home design at Sainsbury’s.

“Fish motifs and bold spot and stripe patterns bring the feel of a Greek island holiday to the home, and watery prints are reminiscent of the sun shimmering on the sea. Textured ceramics and recycled glass add depth and authenticity to this contemporary look.”

Equally striking is the Maritime range at Gift Wrapped & Gorgeous, which has plundered the ocean depths for inspiration, and features ships, anchors, fish and sea creatures on tableware and accessories. A Maritime Coupe Plate, featuring an octopus, £24.

One of House of Fraser’s interior trends this year is contemporary coastal, and its Linea Maritime Serveware Range starts from £12, and a Stripe Napkin Set is currently reduced to £11.20 from £16.

Ramp up the colour with vibrant, zingy hues for tableware and bunting, and you’ll feel as though you’re in a tropical hotspot.

“Garden parties and barbeques usually involve plenty of guests, so it’s fun and easier to use disposable tableware, which can look just as good as chinaware but avoids the worry of breakages. Reflecting our increasing enthusiasm for colour indoors, there’s more pattern and zingy shades featuring on al fresco tableware,” says Clare Harris, managing director at Talking Tables.

“The range of designs and colours available has moved on leaps and bounds in recent years, and designs range from faux porcelain to granny-style florals and, one of my favourites, tropical brights, to conjure thoughts of exotic climes.”

Rolling fields and sweeping lawns are the perfect setting for picnics, cream teas or leisurely lunches, but even a modest plot can be transformed into a rural idyll with a country-style table.

“If you want to create a natural, rustic look for your dinner table, opt for serving dishes and dinnerware made from materials like bamboo, woods and rattan,” says Nikki Stuart, assistant tabletop buyer at Habitat. “Handwoven baskets, wooden platters, spun bamboo salad bowls and natural, unglazed stoneware will create a relaxed vibe for your table.

“If you’re having a garden party, we’ve also used introduced the new Palmer collection - bowls and plates made in India from fallen palm tree leaves. The leaves are cleaned and heat pressed into moulds, so are an entirely eco-friendly and a disposable option if you just can’t face washing up!”