24 Outdoor Entertaining Ideas That'll Save You Tons of Time

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Photo: Getty Images

Throwing an outdoor party that's fun, festive, and filled with food, drink, and conversation isn't as easy as moving your indoor party to the patio. When you're hosting an outdoor party, certain factors (like unexpected wind or a sunny backyard without an inch of shade) can quickly complicate things. For a truly foolproof shindig, lean into the spirit of the season with easy ways to work with the elements. Try tablecloth weights, no-fuss table settings, and a simple menu that won't leave you stranded in the kitchen while your guests mingle outside.

Whether you're having family over for an impromptu patio day or are prepping for a giant Fourth of July bash for the entire neighborhood, these tips are designed to help make your life easier, so you can kick back and enjoy the summer with your family and friends.

01 of 24

Focus on Comfy Seating

 Outdoor picnic table with string lights
bernardbodo/Getty Images

Thick, comfortable chair cushions will encourage guests to linger at the table. If you don't already have some, consider investing in replacement cushions in a weatherproof material, such as these Sunbrella cushions from the Company Store.

02 of 24

Get Creative With Disposables

Table Setting at Garden Party
TaraPatta/Shutterstock

Lay brown craft paper across a table for a casually finished look and super-easy cleanup. If the kids are looking for an activity, set out crayons on a craft-paper-covered kids' table and they can doodle on the tablecloth until dinner is ready.

03 of 24

Choose a Fun, Fuss-Free Dessert

Friendly's Blackberry Peach Pie dessert cups
Friendly's

When you're hosting a family party on a hot summer day, pick up a dessert that helps you keep your cool. Friendly's Dessert Cups come with layers of delicious ice cream and mix-ins (did we mention the whipped topping and streusel crumble?) for a refreshing and totally mess-free option.

04 of 24

Don’t Stress About Matching Dishware

Lunch spread on picnic table
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Don’t get overly fussy with dinnerware—an eclectic mix feels more laid-back anyway. Feel free to pair your crisp white plates with vintage florals or even modern stripes for a relaxed vibe.

05 of 24

Keep the Menu Simple

Keep food simple
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Serve seasonal classics for a backyard picnic: Salads, fresh fruit, and cold drinks will satisfy the crowd, and you won't have to stand at a hot stove for hours. Alternatively, grilling up a delicious dinner will let you hang out with your guests as you prepare the food, so you won't feel isolated in the kitchen.

06 of 24

Work With the Weather

Summer outdoor dining table with all-plastic setup
Deborah Jaffe

Make wind less of an issue by skipping a tablecloth altogether. Or, if you have to have a tablecloth, consider ordering a set of tablecloth weights that will ensure it stays in place. Alternatively, you can weigh disposable dishes down (and greet guests) with small bowls of fresh fruit for an added touch of color.

07 of 24

Define Your Outdoor Space

Define outdoor space by using an umbrella
Mark Turner/Getty Images

An umbrella not only has the obvious task of providing shade, but it also helps define your outdoor space. If you have a yard that gets full sun, consider setting up multiple umbrellas and mini seating areas around the backyard or patio. These shaded retreats will also encourage mingling at a larger party, as guests will congregate at the various seating areas.

08 of 24

Repurpose Indoor Furniture

Outdoor cocktail party setup
Jonny Valiant

When covered with pillows, a cot becomes an outdoor settee. Consider grabbing your indoor chairs for extra seating, or if the weather forecast looks good, recruit some indoor throw pillows as extra outdoor accessories. Just remember to pull everything inside once the party is over.

09 of 24

Encourage Mingling

Separate Tables at Outdoor Parties
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Set up tables in separate areas―say, drinks in one spot, dessert in another―to encourage guests to roam. If guests have to cross the backyard to grab a drink, they're more likely to strike up a conversation along the way.

10 of 24

Create a Mobile Drinks Station

Outdoor cocktail party supplies
Jonny Valiant

Stock a bar cart with essentials: glasses, plates, ice, a cocktail shaker, and swizzle sticks. Simply wheel it back to the kitchen if supplies run low, then slide it back outside to keep things flowing.

11 of 24

Choose Unfussy Decorations

Floating Flower Centerpiece
images72/Shutterstock

Floating peonies and gardenias make a pretty centerpiece. Just pour water into a large serving platter, and trim the stems off of each flower—no floral design skills necessary!

12 of 24

Keep Cold Foods Cold

To keep dairy-based dips and other perishable dishes chilled, fill a large bowl with ice, and sprinkle it with kosher salt. Place the dish on top and it will stay colder for longer. Just be sure to keep an eye on these dishes and replace the dip and ice bath as needed.

13 of 24

Find New Uses for Old Things

Party spread
Miki Duisterhof

Keep bugs away from food with an upended wire-mesh colander. Use ice-pop sticks to distinguish the rare burgers from the well-done. When you get creative with the supplies you already have around your house, you'll buy less and save yourself a trip to the store (and a few dollars).

14 of 24

Lean on Nature for Supplies

Tree Stump Stools
Boyan Dimitrov/Shutterstock

Not enough seating to go around? Even tree stumps will do just fine. Similarly, let flower cuttings from your yard double as table decor, and if you have an herb garden, use fresh basil or rosemary as garnish on dishes and cocktails.

15 of 24

Encourage Guests to Serve Themselves

Lemonade Self-Serve Station
Ray Kachatorian/Getty Images

Set up a lemonade stand to keep guests hydrated. Place glasses within easy reach on a dessert stand. This way, everyone can grab what they need and you won't have to play bartender.

16 of 24

Get Inspired By the Shore

Starfish Napkin Ring
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Embrace a seasonally-appropriate theme, like a seashore motif. Seashells lend a coastal vibe, and tie a starfish to a basic napkin ring for a beachy feel.

17 of 24

Borrow From Your Garden

Sunflowers
Erika Craddock/Getty Images

Fill colorful pails with straight-from-the-garden flowers. If you don't have a beautiful garden to snip flowers from, consider letting branches or leaves stand in as easy table decor.

18 of 24

Let the Weather Determine the Menu

Simple Fare for a Summer Party
JP WALLET/Shutterstock

Let the weather influence the menu. Steamy night? Keep guests plied with simple fare like sparkling drinks and savory bites. Opt for cooling foods on a particularly hot day, or choose richer foods on a chilly, end-of-summer evening.

19 of 24

Set the Mood

Outdoor Lanterns
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Paper lanterns draped from tree limbs are charmingly festive (use dark extension cords that will blend in). Repurposed white Christmas lights also provide a magical twinkle effect. Even inexpensive tea lights set in clean glass jam jars can create ambience. Careful, with a scene this magical, your guests will want to stick around late into the night.

20 of 24

Keep Bugs Away

Citronella Torches
Onfokus/Getty Images

Circle your party area with citronella candles or incense sticks to light when the sun starts to set. The scent will help keep bugs at bay. Also consider setting out a bottle (or two) of bug spray on the perimeter of the party for guests to use.

21 of 24

Create a Faux Glow

Flameless Candles
Jakub Mazur/Getty Images

Battery-operated flameless candles give off the same warm glow as traditional candles, with no fear of wind, fire hazard, or spilled wax. If you're planning to have young children or pets running around the backyard, this is a great option.

22 of 24

Use Overhead Lighting

Outdoor chandelier
Minh + Wass

Wrap a vintage chandelier with fairy lights for a romantic vibe. You can also string fairy lights along a table or in a nearby tree or bush.

23 of 24

Gather 'Round the Fire

Fire pit on patio
Jonn Coolidge

A fire pit is a must for s’mores and stories. Invest in a fire pit and your family is bound to use it several times (or even every night) throughout the summer and fall.

24 of 24

Add Areas for Both Sitting and Lounging

Wicker Furniture on Patio
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

The mark of a great summer evening? No one is in any rush and everyone wants to hang out late into the night. Pull out the sturdy wicker furniture, perfect for lolling in on lazy summer nights. Or, pull over reclining lounge chairs or stylish beach chairs so guests can lie back and enjoy the evening.

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