How to Set the Perfect Summer Table

We asked a few of our favorite entertaining experts for their top tips on tablescapes, serveware, and crowd-pleasing dishes to make sure your summer gathering is gorgeous — and goes off without a hitch!

We asked a few of our favorite entertaining experts for their top tips on tablescapes, serveware, and crowd-pleasing dishes to make sure your summer gathering is gorgeous — and goes off without a hitch!

Photo: Bryan E. McCay from Modern Mix, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith Eddie Ross , author of  The Modern Mix

What's your favorite inexpensive tip for setting a beautiful table?Bed sheets are a must-have for entertaining outdoors. Ralph Lauren once splashed this pring (above) on bedding, including this king-sized top sheet I spotted at a Salvation Army store. Now it’s the backdrop for a summer buffet dinner, combining antique and mid-century elements in a modern mix.

What's the best way to make to make a party feel special?

In culinary school, I learned to make fancy things like plateaux de fruits de mer. That’s French for “shellfish on a plate” over ice. The dish sits on a stand, adding drama to seafood night. Buy fresh or frozen shrimp, serve them up high and layer in crisp vegetables. I used vintage silver plate enameled with turquoise and teal (all sourced super inexpensively from thrift stores!), though any serveware will do. Use a brightly colored backdrop to pick up the veggies’ summery colors.  

Photo: Elizabeth Rudge; Styling: Jenn Elliott Blake; Calligraphy: Sally Balt Anna Watson Carl , author of The Yellow Table

Any tips for setting the table without spending a ton of money? 

Use what you have – no need to go shopping just because you're having a party. I love using simple white plates, because it makes the food really pop, and I collect affordable vintage silverware from flea markets and estate sales. Keep cloth napkins on hand - they look pretty on the table and can be washed and reused for years. I have a collection of mason jars in various sizes that I'll use for flower vases, or even as water glasses. 

What dishes do you love to serve to please a big crowd?

I love making Lemongrass Salmon Burgers for parties. It's a nice twist on the traditional beef burgers, and they can be cooked on the stovetop or the grill. They can also be made in advance and chilled until ready to grill. Another make-ahead favorite for picnics or cookouts is my Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Roasted Summer Veggies. It actually tastes better when you make it a day in advance, and the leftovers are great for lunch. Haricots Verts with Dijon-Shallot Vinaigrette , served chilled, is a really easy, delicious summer side. For dessert, I love serving Peach Blackberry Crumble  — it's a total crowd-pleaser.  

What’s the best way to plan a summer party menu? 

I like to choose dishes that can be made in advance , or foods that can be put on the grill. You don’t want to get stuck prepping in the kitchen when all of your  guests are outside! A summer menu could be as simple as grilled veggie kabobs, grilled corn, warm tortillas, guacamole and spicy margaritas. 

Any favorite recipes or dishes?

I love Broccoli Tahini Pasta Salad — it’s packed with vegetables, but it’s so flavorful. The creamy dressing is made from tahini instead of mayo, so it’s great for picnics and backyard barbecues. 

Want more summer entertaining tips from Whole Foods Market? Find out how to throw a cool summer party without breaking the bank, how to make refreshing mocktails , and how to make your summer barbecue entirely meatless .

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