Color, texture define outdoor dining

By JoAnn Petaschnick


Spring is in full swing and summer’s not far off. It’s time once again to think about entertaining outdoors. Whether it’s just the family or a full-fledged outdoor dinner party on the patio, dining alfresco does not have to mean paper plates and plastic cups. You can find casual dinnerware and specialty serveware that is not only attractive, but stands up to some rough handling.

Sue Thome of George Watts shows us how easily elegance moves outdoors.

“We have some lovely patterns that look especially good on the patio table,” according to Paula Gelbke, buyer for George Watts & Son, Inc. in downtown Milwaukee. She described one pattern in green and white stripes that blends particularly well with some oversized bottle green glasses just made to serve iced beverages on a hot summer day.

In case you are concerned, “Casual china is very durable and can be used outdoors without worry,” according to Sue Meyer, assistant buyer. “But we also carry wooden charger plates that can be used as chargers or as oversized buffet plates,” she said. The buffets and other woodenware no longer come in just wood tones; the yellow, green, plum, and raspberry will add some pizzazz to your table. Bamboo patterned serving trays and flatware finish off your casual look, Gelbke said.

Lucite acrylic glass and stemware is practical and durable yet lovely and works wonderfully to serve your favorite foods and drinks. One pattern called Grainware is especially beautiful, Meyer noted. “There’s a variety of glassware, ice buckets, pitchers, serving platters and tubs that can be used for holding ice or beverages,” she said. You will find nearly any size tumbler or wine goblet and even champagne flutes and pilsners. This drinkware is durable but elegant enough to serve to your most important guests at any occasion—even formal. “I have seen this acrylic ware next to real crystal and you cannot tell the difference,” she said.

This year, colors and patterns have taken a turn toward softer hues.

“Although there are still some primary colors, most are much softer this year. You’ll see soft buttercup yellow, pear green and pink,” Gelbke said. Looking for an unusual touch? “If you want to have a little fun, use a colorful afghan or shawl on your table rather than a tablecloth. We’ve even used colorful woven rugs on the table. It’s all about color and texture,” Meyer advised.

One word of warning about acrylic serving pieces. Although it is quite durable, Meyer warns that putting acrylic pieces in the dishwasher can turn them cloudy over time. “It might take a few washings, but they will eventually lose clarity,” she said.

“The important thing to keep in mind when shopping is versatility. I don’t think that most of us are able to buy for any one single event. So collecting and mixing patterns and materials each year is important. Maybe you want to get one new thing that changes the look of the entire table,” Gelbke recommended.