24 Outdoor Entertaining Tips That'll Save You Tons of Time
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Focus on Comfy Seating
Thick, comfortable cushions on the chairs will encourage guests to linger at the table. If you don't already have cushioned outdoor chairs, consider investing in some replacement cushions in a weatherproof material, such as these Sunbrella cushions from the Company Store.
Get Creative With Disposables
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 some crayons on the craft-paper-covered kids' table and they can doodle on the tablecloth until dinner is ready.
Choose a Fun, Fuss-Free Dessert
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 pie crust pieces, peach pie filling, and vanilla ice cream (did we mention the whipped topping and streusel crumble?) for that fresh-baked fruit pie taste—without ever having to turn on your oven.
Don’t Stress About Matching Dishware
Don’t get overly fussy with dinnerware—an eclectic mix feels more laid-back anyway. Don't be afraid to pair your crisp white plates with vintage florals and even modern stripes for a relaxed vibe.
Keep the Menu Simple
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 prep the food, so you won't feel isolated in the kitchen.
Work With the Weather
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 through every gust of wind. Weight dishes―and greet guests―with small bowls of fresh fruit.
Define Your “Outdoor Room”
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 little shaded retreats will also encourage mingling at a larger party, as guests will congregate at the various seating areas.
Repurpose Indoor Furniture
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.
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.
Create a Mobile Drinks Station
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 the get-together going.
Choose Unfussy Decorations
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.
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 be sure to replace the dip and ice-water bath as needed.
Find New Uses for Old Things
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 be able to buy less and save yourself a trip to the store.
Lean on Nature for Supplies
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.
Encourage Guests to Serve Themselves
Set up a lemonade stand to keep guests hydrated on hot afternoons. 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 all day long.
Get Inspired By the Shore
Embrace a seasonally-appropriate theme, like a seashore motif. Seashells lend a seaside vibe, and tie a starfish to a basic napkin ring for a beachy feel.
Borrow From Your Garden
Fill colorful pails with straight-from-the-garden sunflowers. If you don't have a beautiful garden to snip flowers from, consider letting branches or leaves stand in as easy table decor.
Let the Weather Determine the Menu
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.
Set the Mood
Paper lanterns draped from tree limbs are charmingly festive (use dark extension cords that blend in). Repurposed white Christmas lights also provide a magical twinkle effect. Even inexpensive tea lights set in clean glass jam jars can help set the ambience. Careful, with a scene this magical, your guests will want to stick around late into the night.
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Keep Bugs Off the Guest List
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 that guests can use if they wish.
Create a Faux Glow
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 a lot of young children or pets running around the backyard, this is a great option.
Use Overhead Lighting
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.
Gather Round the Fire
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.
Add Areas for Both Sitting and Lounging
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 a lazy summer night. Or pull over reclining lounge chairs or stylish beach chairs so your family and friends can lie back and enjoy the evening.