Now that spring has sprung and the weather is improving, the time for outdoor entertaining has finally come.
Have you ever gone to a function at someone’s house, only to sit awkwardly on their uncomfortable couch watching the television?
Here’s the thing: those kinds of get-togethers aren’t fun for guests, nor are they fun for the host.
That’s why you need to up your game,
There’s only one issue – you’re not sure how to up your outdoor gathering game. That’s okay, though, because we’re here to help you with these great, easy-to-implement ideas to make your next backyard party a smashing success.
Ready? Let’s get brainstorming.
Your Guide to Outdoor Entertaining
Ultimately, if the weather is nice and you’re around the people you love, any gathering is going to be great.
That’s why we’re focusing on the little touches that can take your outdoor entertaining from “it was fun” to “aw, why do we have to leave?”
1. Create a Drink Station
Especially if you live on the west coast, you’re going to need some icy refreshments for any outdoor entertaining you host.
So why not put everything in the same place so guests can mix drinks to their heart’s content?
Set up a little mobile cart with ice, straws, glasses, and drinks (alcoholic or not, either is fine) so you can wheel it into the kitchen if something needs to be replenished.
Alternatively, repurpose an old hutch or cabinet into a drink one-stop-shop.
2. Go Buffet Style
The best part about buffets isn’t even the fact that it’s “all you can eat” – it’s that you can pick and choose the exact foods you want so your meal is unique to your tastes.
With that in mind, try setting up your outdoor entertaining with a buffet-style, choose your adventure feel.
This works outdoors if the weather is fine, though if you’re worried you can always try something like a portable awning protecting the food.
3. Spark a Flame
A fire pit helps set a festive mood, especially in the early spring when people want to gather around a heat source.
You can also provide some great activities around the pit for kids (let’s face it, adults too) like toasting marshmallows and making s’mores.
Don’t have a fire pit built for outdoor entertaining? No worries there are plenty of portable fire pits that can be stashed away when not in use, and they’re easier to clean too.
4. Create a “Dining Room” Outdoors
When you’re dining inside, you’re probably going to gather all your guests for a meal in the dining room. Why not do the same when you’re outdoor entertaining?
While you can have guests sit wherever they please, setting up one communal dining space lends a feeling of togetherness that makes outdoor gatherings like this so special.
You can establish this space using an umbrella, an awning, or even just some festive torches or lights to dine by in the evening.
If you don’t want to commit to one singular dining space, you can set up a few informal spaces as well.
Consider creating all of these spaces around the same centerpiece (flower vases or punch bowls, perhaps).
Worried about your guests’ comfort? Use some of our tried-and-true methods, like patio heaters or chimineas, to keep them warm.
5. Movies in “The Park”
Many cities have some form of movie-watching gathering in a local park. Why not set up your own?
These days, projectors are fairly cheap, and you don’t need any fancy screen setups – you can just use the side of the house, or drape up a spare white sheet.
Try stringing up some lights to create a warm atmosphere, or go fully dark like a drive-in film.
Worried about what kind of film to show? It’s important to consider your guests.
Whatever you do, try and keep the films light-hearted – movies about war or other violent topics probably won’t be best for outdoor entertaining.
If necessary, you can even set up a little poll online to see what your guests want to see!
And don’t (we repeat: do not) forget the popcorn!
6. Get Creative with Themes
Outdoor entertaining doesn’t have to be completely devoid of thematic inspiration.
That doesn’t mean you have to go all out and Great Gatsby the place, but it can be fun to have some themed trappings to get guests in a festive mood.
For example, you can try a few of these ideas:
- Mad Men themed with martinis and oysters
- A Japanese bar theme complete with Japanese beer and yakitori or gyoza
- Western-themed with lots of strong whiskey, ribs, and baked potatoes
To be honest, you could theme an outdoor gathering in just about any way. Just pick an idea you like, figure out some themed cocktails and drinks, and go wild with it.
7. Mix Up the Dinnerware
There’s nothing technically wrong with serving everyone on your finest china, but outdoor entertaining in the spring usually conjures images of bright colors and gloriously green flora.
With this in mind, don’t be afraid to mix up your serving dinnerware. Try plates with bright designs and spring colors (light blues, greens, oranges, and yellows work nicely).
Also, don’t pay any mind if the plates don’t match each other. Serving on eclectic plates isn’t a problem – it’s a feature!
8. Simplicity Can Be Best
What we’re saying is there’s a time and place for gold-encrusted spoons and caviar.
Especially when outdoor entertaining, serving simple, the seasonal fare can be the best way to keep your guests happy. After all, who doesn’t love the classics?
Some tips for keeping your outdoor meals light and fresh:
- Freshly washed and cut fruit (try to get in-season produce if possible)
- Salads (potato-based is acceptable, of course)
- Grilled meats (and for vegan friends, plant-based proteins)
- Cold liquid refreshment (beer, simple mixed cocktails, sweet tea, juices, and the ever-necessary water)
- Low-prep desserts (banana pudding, upside down cake, fresh fruit parfaits)
Simple doesn’t have to equal boring – in fact, it can be rather refreshing to step away from high-culinary dining and grill up some burgers with watermelon and corn on the side.
9. Use the Available Space
Have you ever been to a gathering where everything – refreshments, food, tables, chairs – are all clustered in one area?
Typically, these spaces feel cramped and unnatural. Plus, it means that you can’t take a break away from the crowd or have a one-on-one conversation with another person.
Keep this in mind when you’re outdoor entertaining: use all of the available space.
For example, set up one table specifically for mixing drinks, and another for food. Create a few separate seating areas with different types of furniture to allow guests to choose their area.
Mix up the cover, too – in sunny weather, create areas of sunlight and of shade to allow people to seek respite or warm themselves up.
Don’t be afraid to create “stations.” This encourages guests to walk around, mingle with one another, and maybe even meet new people.
10. Revel in the Ambience
Outdoor entertaining never has to be just a backyard barbecue (though there’s nothing wrong with that). There are plenty of ways to make an outdoor party classy, fun, haute, kid-friendly, or all of the above.
Let’s break down some ambience pro tips.
Lighting: Creating a certain mood in the backyard has never been easier. For instance, if you want to create a fun, festive vibe, try string lighting (bonus points if the lights are shaped like interesting objects, like hot air balloons or fruits).
On the other hand, you can use something like paper lamps or lanterns to create a more festival-type environment.
You can even re-purpose last year’s Christmas lights. The important thing is to think about the environment you want to create and get lights from there.
Music: Depending on the kind of outdoor entertaining you’re doing, you’ll want to change up the music.
When you’re hosting your family, maybe that death metal gym playlist isn’t the go-to.
Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to allow guests to choose their own music as well. Figure out a home-made jukebox setup, or even invest in a home turntable if you want to do a bit of DJ-ing (just no amateur electronic mixes, please).
Of course, you can always find a pleasant Pandora or Spotify playlist and play that lightly. The music doesn’t have to be the centerpiece, just the accompaniment to the evening.
Centerpieces: Great centerpieces can change the entire feel of an outdoor gathering.
For instance, if you’re trying to create a classy-feeling outdoor dinner party, consider putting out some elegant flowers and candles.
On the other hand, if you’re putting on a movie night and s’mores creation station, consider making the centerpieces a little more light-hearted (mason jars with tea lights work nicely).
You’re now a bonafide expert in outdoor entertaining. Now get out and there and throw the spring party of a lifetime!
Want more tips? Check out our other articles on entertaining or contact us if you have questions or concerns.
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