Create a table runner. Leftover wallpaper or wrapping paper works great and costs nothing.
Dress up the chairs. Tie a colorful sash around the back and tuck a sprig of rosemary into the bow, suggests Los Angeles event planner Mindy Weiss.
Windproof the tablescape. To avoid chasing paper plates and napkins around the yard, weight them down with pretty rocks or shells. Wrap utensils in napkins and tie with paper twine. Keep the tablecloth secure by sandwiching each corner with a pair of mutually attracting magnets.
Design a one-bloom centerpiece. There’s no need for an expensive arrangement. Place a small colored vase with one bloom inside a larger hurricane lamp or clear glass vase.
Use fresh herbs as decorations. “Herbs in small glasses look fantastic,” says Los Angeles event planner Yifat Oren. “You can use clear or colored glass, everyday or vintage bottles, in the same or different shapes and heights. And you can do just a single herb in a glass―like rosemary, lavender, or thyme―or mix them.” Another idea, from Katie Brown, author of Katie Brown’s Outdoor Entertaining: Taking the Party Outside (Little, Brown, $30, amazon.com): Use pots of lavender as combination centerpiece, place card, and favor. Onto each pot, tie a tag that has a name card on one side and a recipe using the herb on the other.
Set up a lemonade stand. It gives guests something to do the minute they arrive and helps with hydration on hot afternoons, says Brown. Stock it with glasses, an ice bucket, a vase of mint sprigs in water, and straws.
Freeze mint leaves in ice cubes. Add them to lemonade or water for a cool, refreshing zing. To make the cubes last longer outside the freezer, Brown suggests setting a bowl of ice inside a larger bowl filled with half ice and half water.
Have portable misters handy. On hot days, fill spray bottles with ice water so guests can mist themselves.
Make the main course grill-it-yourself. Get guests mingling―and lighten your load―by providing the fixings for kabobs or pizzas they can build and grill exactly to their liking.
Grill an easy dessert: Try cinnamon-grilled peaches, courtesy of Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue! Bible: Over 500 Recipes (Workman, $20, amazon.com). Skewer quartered peaches with a cinnamon stick and a mint leaf. Baste with a mix of equal parts butter, brown sugar, and bourbon. Then grill, basting and turning once so the peaches are golden brown on both sides. Serve in martini glasses atop vanilla ice cream drizzled with some of the bourbon sauce. Garnish with mint sprigs.