Creating a memorable outdoor dinner party can be a breeze with these easy outdoor entertaining tips from the experts.
Whether it’s a backyard grilling party, a more formal sit down meal, or simply gathering family and friends, taking a few extra steps will make it memorable and much easier on you, the host.
And if you hadn’t planned to host an outdoor party, I challenge you to do it once this season with these tips!
10 Expert Tips for Outdoor Entertaining
1. Beverages and Quick Appetizers
Begin the evening with a tray of simple beverages or for more casual entertaining, a tub filled with ice and cans or bottles of soda or water.
To make your own refreshing beverage, make your own Summer Sweet Lemonade.
Appetizer Idea: Toasted Almonds
Combine 2 cups raw almonds, 2 tbsp. sea salt, 1 tbsp. finely minced rosemary, and 2 tsp. olive oil. Roast on a sheet pan for 10 to 12 minutes at 350°.
2. Mobile Drink Station
Set up a mobile cart or a separate small portable table you’ve covered with a festive cloth. Everything beverage related should be on this table, including cups if using, and small napkins. If you’re setting up a hot chocolate bar, be sure to include all the condiments. This should be a serve yourself table. Be sure to add your quick appetizers to this table.
3. Light it Up
All you need is a little ambient lighting, says Jimmy Duhig, the owner of Creative Lighting Design, in San Francisco: “If you’re outside while it’s getting dark, your eyes will adjust.” Just hang strings of lights on the deck, the fence, even tree branches, and add some hurricane lanterns or tealights. Duhig recommends globe string lights, elegant round bulbs that give off a warm glow. (Real Simple).
4. Bring the Music Outside
Don’t crank the speakers. No one will want to stand near them if they’re blaring. The best setup is four or more speakers, spread out, set at a lower volume. “If you’re using a boom box or an iPod dock, place it above ear level so it’s not blasting directly at guests’ heads,” says Michael Antonia, owner of Flashdance, a production company in Los Angeles. “And turn it toward the side of the house—you can make it a little louder and the sound will spread out better.”
Go heavy on classics: the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson—songs that people recognize. Keep it upbeat, and mix in some newer tunes here and there. “I like Bon Iver, Beach House, White Stripes, and Elliott Smith,” says Antonia.
Plan for five hours. “Most parties aren’t going to last longer than that, and if there’s anyone who realizes the playlist has started over at hour six, well, they probably need another drink.”
5. Create a Comfort Zone
Creating a comfort zone for guests can be as simple as a fan, says Martha Stewart. “Running a fan near your dining area will help keep mosquitoes at bay — and keep your guests cool, too. You may also want to fill a container, such as a flowerpot or basket, with natural insect repellent (made from essential oils) as well as nongreasy sunscreen. Set it out in a convenient location on the porch or by the pool, perhaps — for those who seek protection from the elements.”
6. Homegrown Decor
“Create centerpieces using foliage from the yard,” Martha Stewart advises. “Flowering or fruiting branches look elegant atop a table, as do fern fronds and hosta leaves arranged in jars.” Take a careful inspection of your existing garden containers, dead-heading where necessary, several days before your event or gathering.
7. Table Setting
Ina Garten, perhaps best known as the Barefoot Contessa, cookbook author, television host and consummate entertaining expert recommends using your best for a party. “I use my best linens, best china, best glasses. It’s a small thing that doesn’t take any more time — but it makes an evening feel more important and special,” she said. And for the table? “I always do candles — it feels festive. And flowers, or a chive plant, a big bowl of clementines, anything of the season.”
Whether you’re grilling, serving cold dishes on ice or hosting a sit-down meal, carefully go over your menu in advance. Choose foods and recipes you’re comfortable with and have made successfully before. I’m all for trying new, and do every week, but doing so for a dinner party just adds stress you don’t need!
9. Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Fun Right Over
“As much as the adults in your party will relish a laid-back evening, any children at your event will be aching for entertainment. Have plenty of outdoor games ready and waiting for the wee ones. Set up lawn games such as horseshoes or croquet for some old-fashioned fun. Or for a mess of laughs, spread out the old Twister mat. The fun doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down. Supply the kids with flashlights for a game of nighttime tag, and the adults can continue to sip some wine and savor the evening,” advises Southern Living.
10. Winding Down Around the Fire
The perfect end to an outdoor dinner party: making s’mores by an open fire. All you need are bamboo sticks and the right ingredients — marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. Or in a pinch, try Peanut Butter Chocolate Oven S’mores.
Saving the Best Advice for Last
Ina Garten offers this advice that sums it all up. “Once the menu is set, and you’re planned and organized — what next? How do you create a dinner party that’s comfortable and fun for everyone? ‘I literally think in my mind, when people arrive, what happens?’ Ina said. Music is the first key. ‘Make sure there’s music, so it feels like a party when people walk in the door.’
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