With the first day of spring come and gone, outdoor entertaining season has officially begun. This year, it seems it will be more popular than ever, given the rapidly growing demand for outdoor furniture, kitchens, and year-round amenities. And because of that, it may be time to brush up on some outdoor entertaining ideas from experts so you can head into warmer weather with tips that’ll wow all your guests.
To help you do just that, TZR reached out to the professionals to get their must-have items and planning advice for garden parties, patio hangs, and everything in between. Keep in mind, however, that these suggestions aren’t just for big events in non-pandemic times. Whether you’re hosting a socially distanced gathering for a small group of people, an intimate get-together for your pod, or a backyard BBQ for your fully vaccinated group of friends, nearly all of the expert-approved ideas ahead can be utilized at outdoor events of any kind and size. The most important thing is to have fun, create a relaxing vibe, and of course, stay as safe as possible by following current CDC considerations for gatherings.
Once you have those requirements down, start planning with the six tips, ahead.
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Outdoor Entertaining Idea: Keep Pests At Bay
As Marielle Shortell, co-founder of curated event rentals brand Hestia Harlow, says, mosquitos are the number one killer of outdoor events; to combat this, she recommends a patio shield repellant that will keep bugs away for up to 12 hours. Styling and design expert Adele Beiny of Life’s Looking Good also advises some kind of protection, and she recommends a well-designed citronella candle with other notes infused to help you avoid an antiseptic scent. And don’t forget about food — make sure you don’t end up with flies in the potato salad by investing in a few inexpensive food tents.
Outdoor Entertaining Idea: Use Casual Dishes & Glassware
Don’t add to your plate (no pun intended) by setting out breakable dish sets; instead, opt for something that looks good while still being functional and safe. “Melamine is one of my favorite choices for outdoor dining,” says Beiny. “[It’s] light and worry-free on outdoor surfaces like cement or tile and perfect for young guests (or anyone who has a moment of clumsiness).”
And if you want something akin to glassware, Shortell suggests acrylic pieces. “It's a nice touch and makes a very casual outdoor event a little extra special,” she explains, noting that Hestia Harlow offers glassware (or acrylic ware) station rentals if you don’t want to purchase any for a one-time use.
Outdoor Entertaining Idea: Consider The Elements
While food and drink is something most people look forward to at parties, it can easily go awry if you forget to take the elements into account when planning and serving. As Beiny says, “Choose foods that are sustainable in the prevailing outdoor weather and will maintain their zest without wilting or melting.” She recommends crudités with a Mediterranean variety of dips, while Kelly Barnhart, chef and creator of the Houston restaurant Vibrant, says her perfect menu would be “little squares of our mushroom pizza, our charcuterie platter, and ever-flowing Palomas.”
Speaking of cocktails, don’t let those get watery; Shortell advises creating a large batch ahead of time and displaying it in a carafe along with assorted alcohol for guests to mix. Then, serve ice separately.
Outdoor Entertaining Idea: Prioritize Guest Comfort
Obviously, a major factor to take into account with any outdoor party is weather. You don’t want your guests to suffer from blistering heat or frigid cold temperatures, so gather some necessities that will ensure their comfort throughout the event.
For evenings or chilly days, Shortell suggests providing throw blankets or shawls — or, go the extra mile with a fire pit or outdoor heaters. And if people are bound to work up a sweat, ensure there’s plenty of ice, fans, and non-alcoholic drinks. Don’t forget shade, either, she continues — and if you’re physically distancing, consider handing out parasols to each attendee to help shield them from the sun while also adding a fun, decorative element. And, as Rebecca Gardner, founder of Houses & Parties, says, remind people that you’ll be spending time outside. “Let your guests know that dinner is en plein air so that they dress appropriately, head to toe.”
That said, guest comfort isn’t just about weather, Gardner continues. “Take the time to make thoughtful introductions, make sure there are lots of food options for picky eaters, create [nice lighting], and don't ever run out of wine.”
Outdoor Entertaining Idea: Create A Vibe
There may be a lot of technical elements to plan and consider when throwing an outdoor party, but don’t let those get in the way of having some fun with your decor. Like any other gathering, you want to make sure there’s an easy, relaxed vibe, which experts say you can do in a variety of ways.
Most importantly, focus on your lighting. “Candlelight is the number-one key to hosting outdoor dinner parties!” says Barnhart. “I always have a smattering of glass lanterns on the ground and tabletops to maintain that cozy glow in spite of any wind.”
That said, don’t forget about the rest of your tablescape. “I tend to clump a multi-height floral vignette at the end of the table and have only candlelight where people are,” she continues. “I find that this creates a nice unifying intimacy while also feeling a bit luxurious!”
And just when you think you’ve got the perfect setup? Take it one step further, says Gardner. “I like the decor to be unabashed, abundant and colorful. When I'm sure it's done, I add one more element of surprise.”
Outdoor Entertaining Idea: Set Up Stations
As Shortell explains, you can’t be a great host if you’re not relaxed. So, she says, set up stations for things like food, activities, and drinks that are self-serve. “This way you aren't running around tending to requests, and you are engaging with your guests.”