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Outdoor entertaining season is one of the best times of the year. The weather is usually perfect, the sun is out longer, and everyone is in a more cheerful mood. Whether you want to host friends or simply enjoy your backyard with your family this year, there are so many options for tableware and serveware to elevate your next al fresco meal. This can get overwhelming with the variety of options, from upscale to casual and everything between. Add in storage issues (not everyone has room to store lots of different outdoor goods year-round) and it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Whether you’re looking for an elegant affair or easy cleanup, here are the best outdoor serving pieces.
Best Reusable Tableware: Aidio Melamine Dinnerware Set
Charming rustic chic look
Break and chip resistant
Not microwave safe
This Melamine tableware is simply stunning and takes any type of outdoor scenario—from eating on the patio to a picnic in the park—up a notch. The goods are white with an elegant gray rim. Not only does it look beautiful, but it performs, as well. Melamine is a durable material and resists chipping, scratching, and even breaking. It’s dishwasher safe for easy cleanup, although it's not microwave safe. And, it’s easily stackable, so seasonal storage is no issue. It can also be used indoors—it looks stylish, so it's not limited to super-casual affairs—which means you can really get your money's worth.
This set contains 12 pieces, including dinner plates, appetizer plates, and bowls, allowing you to grab all the essentials in one fell swoop.
Material: Melamine | Includes: 4 soup bowls, 4 salad plates, 4 dinner plates
Best Disposable Tableware: Me&Earth 10-inch Bamboo Disposable Square Plate Set
Large and sturdy plates
A bit pricey for disposable dinnerware
No spoons or knives
While reusable tableware is great, there are some times when disposable is the way to go. However, disposable items often get in the way of living more sustainably. This tableware is a great way to combine the two. The bamboo disposable tableware by Me+Earth has a nice look to it, but all of the pieces are made from fallen areca palm leaves. The microwave-safe line will completely break down back into the earth’s soil within 60 days. The pack contains 30 plates, 30 forks, and 30 napkins, so you’re ready to serve and clean up efficiently.
Material: Areca palm leaf, birchwood | Includes: 30 plates, 30 forks, 30 napkins
Best Chip and Dip Tray: Mud Pie Chip Off the Old Block Stacked Chip and Dip Set
Removable dip bowl sits on the rim of the chip bowl
Prone to chipping
Dip bowl is a bit small
Mudpie has a knack for making cute conversational entertainment pieces and this chips and dip set is no exception. The full-sized, sturdy ceramic bowl is adorned with the phrase “chip off the old block,” and the rim features beautiful white pearl detailing, giving the set a look that can fit an upscale gathering or a less formal one. The dip tray has room for two different types of dip, allowing for choices, and it's elevated. This helps when it comes to spillage and keeping the rest of the chips dip-free. The set also comes with an adorable serving spoon to help you get all the dip out of the tray and into your mouth.
Material: Ceramic | Weight: 1.88 pounds | Includes: Chip bowl, dip bowl, serving spoon
Best Tray: Chicago Metallic Taco Party Multi-Use Rotating Entertaining Set
Divided trays for multiple toppings
Bulky, difficult to store
While Chicago Metallic’s Taco Party line is amazing for tacos, the tray can be used for a plethora of other bits and bites. Ice cream parties, hot appetizers, and crudités can all make use of the Taco Party entertaining tray. It includes a 7-cup serving bowl in the center, which is perfect for the main ingredient. The wire rack can hold hard or soft tacos, ice cream cones, crackers, and other bases. Three divided mini trays with room for six fixings round out the circular piece.
The entire Taco Party tray sits on a 15-inch rotating base, which makes it easy for everyone around the table to reach the food. The tray has a soft mat on top to keep everything secure and soft, non-slip feet to keep the tray from moving around on your table. Even better? The bowl, condiment trays, and rack can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
Material: Plastic, metal | Capacity: 1.75 quart main bowl | Includes: 3 divided trays, 1 bowl, 1 wire rack, 1 15-inch turntable
Best Pitcher: Prodyne Fruit Infusion Flavor Pitcher
Clear acrylic for easy viewing
Can be refilled without removing the fruit
Lid doesn’t fully cover spout
A great pitcher makes all the difference when having a party. Sure, water and other beverages are fine, but a little fruit-infused water makes an impression. This Prodyne fruit infusion pitcher is made from BPA-free acrylic and has a removable hollow rod that can be filled with fruits, citrus wedges, herbs, or savories. And not only can you infuse water, but you can also use your imagination and create infused tea, vodka, gin, or other liquids. While the pitcher is durable and can withstand plenty of use, it is recommended that you hand wash it.
Material: Acrylic | Capacity: 2.9 quarts | Weight: 1.1 pounds
Best Drinkware: Cocktail Kingdom Yarai Acrylic Tumbler Set
Looks like glass
Hand wash for best results
If you want a classic-looking cocktail glass that can hold up against outdoor parties, this set from Cocktail Kingdom is ideal. Made of sturdy acrylic, it won't easily shatter or chip if dropped. It features a beautiful crisscross pattern that adds a bit of texture to the glass. The Yarai Acrylic Tumbler set comes in sets of six or 24, and the cups can stack inside one another for easy storage. Though they are dishwasher safe, the manufacturer recommends hand washing for best results.
As an old-fashioned lover, our tester appreciated that this glass was not only large enough to fit a round ice cube, but it was also durable enough to come with her to a sauna or pool. Since it does come in larger sets, she suggested buying a full set to keep on hand for parties. It's sturdy enough for such situations, and it still has the appearance of a high-end cocktail glass.
Material: Acrylic | Capacity: 10 ounces | Includes: 6 glasses
"This is a great glass to have on hand in your home. Break them out for backyard drinks and never worry about sweeping up broken glass again. When you're done, stack them and keep them in your cupboard—they take up a minimal footprint." — Kate Dingwall, Product Tester
Best Grill-to-Table Cookware: Finex 10-inch Cast Iron Grill Pan
Ergonomic cooling spring handle
Works with all cooktops
Deep grooves difficult for cooking eggs and pancakes
Cast iron is one of the best types of cookware for use on the grill, and it makes all the sense in the world when cooking up things like dips, chili, and other shared apps or sides. Just like oven-to-table goods for inside, grill-to-table cookware for outside makes sense, too. Finex Cast Iron is not only a staple cookware piece, but it’s also stunning enough to make a splash on the table.
This cast-iron grill pan is available in a variety of sizes, although the 10-inch is perfect for cooking up just enough food without taking up too much room on the table. It comes pre-seasoned for use fresh out of the box and is designed for easy food removal. It comes with a stay-cool, ergonomic handle so food can be shared or passed around the table safely, but the cast iron make-up allows it to retain heat, so your food will stay warm for longer.
Material: Cast iron | Weight: | 7.52 pounds | Dimensions: 18.25 x 11.8 x 3 inches
Best Bar Cart: Best Selling Home Dominica Natural Pinecrest Bar Serving Cart
Made of solid wood
Built-in wine racks
Comes with a serving tray
This bar cart from not only holds a tray's worth of goodies, but it also looks good doing so. The cart is made out of solid acacia hardwood for a weathered and rustic appearance, and it features two shelves. The bottom one has a built-in wine rack to keep your bottles secure as you wheel the cart from inside out to the party. The trays hold up to 50 pounds, which means it can definitely handle bowls of chips and dip, a carafe of lemonade, and an ice bucket with ease.
Material: Acacia hardwood | Product Weight: 33 pounds | Maximum Hold Weight: 50 pounds
Best Cooler: Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler
Keeps ice frozen up to four days
Latch may loosen over time
A cooler to keep your beverages frosty in the heat and a reserve of ice so you don’t have to trek back and forth between the deck and the kitchen is a must-have this summer. Few things are as iconic for camping and backyard cookouts as this classic Coleman cooler, which can hold up to 54 quarts (or about 85 cans) and keeps the contents cold for up to four days. You can expect years, if not decades of use out of this cooler. When you’re short on seats, this cooler even doubles as an extra seat, boasting a 250-pound stacking capacity. The cooler is equipped with handles on the sides for carrying and a latch to keep the lid secure.
Material: Alloy steel | Weight: 18.38 pounds | Capacity: 54 quarts
Best Wine Glasses: Host Cooling Cup Set
Keeps drinks cold for hours
Silicone comfort grip
Hand wash only
Need to remember to chill
There’s nothing quite like a cool drink on a warm day. These wine glasses from Host feature a double-insulated wall filled with cooling gel. Simply put these glasses in the fridge or freezer for a few hours before filling with your drink of choice and it will keep it cool for hours. A silicone band will keep your fingers from freezing and also serves as a color-code so you don’t mix up your cup with anyone else’s. Since they’re stemless, they’re more stable, and plastic is ideal for durability. For best cooling results, place them upside down in the fridge or freezer while chilling.
Material: Tritan plastic, silicone, gel | Capacity: 8.5 ounces | Weight: 0.57 pounds
What to Look for in Outdoor Serveware
Weather Resistance or Weather Proofing
If you intend to store any of your serveware outside, then weather proofing or weather resistance is key. Rain in particular is a nuisance that can cause rust, stains, or damage to items that aren’t properly weather-proofed. Metals like stainless steel or aluminum are corrosion-resistant and can withstand rain and wind. Recycled plastic and resin are also popular materials to use for outdoor pieces. In terms of wood, both acacia and cedar are hardy and have some natural water resistance–though both can be improved with sealant. Before you buy, check to see if the item has any protection against the elements.
Whether it’s a backdoor barbecue, summer pool party, or a nice picnic, outdoor events come with a lot of variables. Wind can pick up and toss stuff around, a rowdy game of catch might lead to some tumbles, and anyone can accidentally drop something. That’s why durability is so important. Not only do you want to avoid any breaks or dents, you also want your items to last a long time. Different materials have different durability levels. Acrylic tends to be more shatter-proof than glass, for example. Melamine isn’t as brittle as china.
Outdoor serveware has a line to walk when it comes to weight. If it’s too heavy, it becomes a chore to transport or carry. Too light, and it can blow away in the wind. It’s best to find a happy medium, something that’s just hefty enough to be sturdy, but not so heavy that you strain yourself. Wheeled bar carts can also help carry the load here, easily moving your serveware from one place to another.
How do I best serve food outdoors?
Hosting lunches or dinners outdoors presents a unique set of challenges. There’s wind, bugs, heat, and more to contend with. There are a number of ways to serve food outdoors. A buffet style works well for large gatherings, though it’s best if you have some way to cover the food between servings. You could also assemble the food inside on individual plates to bring out, keeping the food nice and protected in the kitchen. Likewise family-style serving is nice for gatherings and could also benefit from coverings, even if it’s just a clean dish towel or some plastic wrap.
What do I need to host an outdoor event?
Outdoor meals are great for neighborhood cookouts, family reunions, graduation parties, and more. If you’re hosting an event, there are a number of items that can help in terms of serving. Think of the main staples for any meal: appetizers, drinks, entrees, and desserts. Serving bowls and dip bowls are great for chips and guac. If it’s a big gathering, you could opt for disposable dinnerware and cutlery to make cleanup a breeze. Sturdy cups are a must for outdoor drinking since flimsy ones will cause spills. Trays or bar carts can help transport multiple items from the kitchen to the serving station. Make sure there’s plenty of serving utensils, too.
What material is best for outdoor use?
As previously said, there are a number of materials that are considered weather-resistant and durable. Great options include stainless steel, acrylic, melamine, enamel, aluminum, acacia or cedarwood, resin wicker, recycled plastic, and wrought iron.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Emily Cappiello has been a housewares journalist since 2006. She was an editorial assistant and then a senior editor at trusted housewares trade magazine HomeWorld Business, and she was the executive editor of Gourmet Insider Magazine, a trade publication that focused on the independent housewares audience. She has spent her career testing products, hosting panels, aiding in product development and marketing, and in sales-focused training courses by housewares vendors.
Allison Wignall, who updated this article, is a writer who focuses on food and travel. She’s always in the kitchen trying to recreate recipes from around the world. Her work has been featured in publications, such as Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Southern Living.