Easy Backyard Entertaining
Set a Smart Backyard Buffet Table
- Make plating up and cleaning up easier by using disposable plates and napkins and conscripting a few household tools for unexpected duty.
- An upended wire-mesh colander keeps bugs away from fruits and vegetables.
- A loaf pan is the perfect size for stacked hamburger buns.
- Use Popsicle-stick labels to distinguish turkey from beef burgers or rare from well-done.
Looking for more fun summer party ideas? Find creative themes, menu ideas, decorating tips, and entertaining shortcuts.
Serve Light, Simple Foods
Two things to keep in mind when setting the backyard buffet table: nothing too heavy and nothing too fancy. Lightly dressed salads and slaws complement an easy menu of burgers and sandwiches (see Backyard Barbecue, Sausage Style).
Here are a couple of serving tips:
- Use plastic squirt bottles for condiments.
- A terra-cotta pot lined with napkins makes a handy serving bowl for potato chips.
Serve Sweet, but Not Rich, Summer Desserts
- Forgo a lineup of rich, buttery desserts in favor of fruit and good store-bought cookies (the ones that come prettily nested in their own paper cups are especially easy).
- What’s more refreshing on a hot night than a bowl of ripe strawberries? Their biggest virtue: zero prep time (OK, you’ll have to run them under the tap).
- Minimize the confusion of orphaned drinks by sticking labels on glasses and writing guests’ names on them.
Set a Dreamy Outdoor Scene
- Summer dinners outdoors become Midsummer Night’s Dream–y with a little help from strings of hanging lanterns.
- Votive candles in jelly jars are all you need to set the mood at the table.
- Create cozy seating areas with indoor and outdoor furniture. Encourage guests to roam―and make space around the table―by setting up a separate drink-and-dessert station.
- Covering the table with an easy-to-assemble pop-up canopy provides protection from a sudden shower and lets you extend the party beyond the edges of the patio.
- Arm the kids with nets and jars for catching fireflies.
Get Creative With Your Table Setting
- For a centerpiece, elevate the simple to the sophisticated―literally―by placing fruit and just-picked blossoms on shoe or small gift boxes that have been covered in white gift wrapping.
- Cut yellow wrapping paper with pinking shears to craft a runner. (Use double-stick tape to secure the runner to the tablecloth.)
- A plum will weigh down a place setting on a breezy night. And forget place cards: Use a marker to write each guest's name directly on the paper tablecloth.
- White-dot stickers from an office-supply store add a playful touch to the yellow table runner.
- Cupcake foils make elegant disposable votives.
- Tie down the tablecloth and runner with twine so they don't blow in the wind.
5 Ways to Keep Mosquitoes at Bay
- Eliminate the conditions in which bugs breed by draining any containers with standing water, such as flowerpot saucers, roof gutters, and birdbaths.
- Encircle your patio or deck with citronella candles or incense sticks so the smoke and fragrance that the bugs hate will always waft toward you.
- An alternative: Plug in some fans. Mosquitoes are weak flyers, so even a fan set on low will create enough airflow to keep them away. This works best in a small area, like a deck, where you can set up two or three box fans around your guests. It’s also a good idea to put a tabletop fan near the food.
- Apply a bug repellent. For those containing DEET, choose 10 percent to 35 percent. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that DEET be applied to children no more than once a day, and does not recommending using it at all on infants under the age of 2 months.) If you prefer to go DEET-free, natural bug repellents can be quite effective (one to try is Coleman Botanicals Insect Repellent, $7.50; rei.com).
- Stay calm. Swatting at mosquitoes attracts them, since they're drawn to motion.