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30 Tips for Easy Outdoor Entertaining

When the weather warms and your parties move outdoors, try these simple ideas.

  1. A successful dinner party doesn’t demand anything elaborate―just simple food, good company, and a convivial setting.

  2. Thick, comfortable cushions on the chairs will encourage guests to linger at the table.

  3. Lay brown craft paper across a table for a casually finished look―and super-easy cleanup.

  4. Don’t get overly fussy with china: An eclectic mix feels more laid-back.

  5. An umbrella not only has the obvious task of providing shade, it also helps define your outdoor dining room.

  6. Keep food simple for a backyard picnic: salads, fresh fruit, cold drinks.

  7. Make wind less of an issue by skipping a tablecloth. Weight dishes―and greet guests―with small bowls of fresh fruit.

  8. Repurpose indoor furniture to create an outdoor “room.” Here, a cot covered with pillows becomes a settee.

  9. Set up tables in separate areas―say, drinks in one spot, dessert in another―to encourage guests to roam.

  10. Stock a bar cart with essentials: glasses, plates, ice, a cocktail shaker, and swizzle sticks. Wheel it back to the kitchen if you run low.

  11. Floating peonies and gardenias make a pretty centerpiece. Just pour water into a large serving platter, and trim the stems off each flower.

  12. To keep dairy-based dips chilled, fill a large bowl with ice, and sprinkle it with kosher salt. Place the dip bowl on top.

  13. Keep bugs away from food with an upended wire-mesh colander. Use Popsicle sticks to distinguish the rare burgers from the well-done.

  14. A summer party should be relaxed. Not enough seating to go around? Even tree stumps will do just fine.

    Set up a lemonade stand to keep guests hydrated on hot afternoons. Place glasses within easy reach on a dessert stand.

  15. Create ambience with themed decorations. Here, a starfish is tied to a basic napkin ring for a beachy feel.

  16. Bring the seashore to your backyard by filling colorful buckets with sand and sunflowers.

  17. On a steamy night, your guests will be happy with simple fare: sparkling drinks and savory little bites, like fancied-up crudités.

  18. At twilight, make sure you provide plenty of lighting. Paper lanterns draped from tree limbs (with dark extension cords that blend in) are charmingly festive.

  19. Circle your party area with citronella candles or incense sticks to light when night falls.

  20. Twinkling strands add instant ambience to any evening party. (Secure with plastic hooks―nails and staples can pierce the wire.)

  21. Hang glowing lanterns on low branches (be sure the lanterns’ handles are long enough that the flames sit about 12 inches from leaves and branches).

  22. A solution for cautious hosts: battery-operated candles. Provides you with the same warm light, with no worries of wind or dripping wax.

    Lend an ethereal effect to a backyard with solar lights, which run on energy gathered during the day and snap on as darkness falls.

  23. Light up an outdoor dinner with bright, festive strands intertwined with foliage.

  24. Add a touch of romance to the night with a chandelier made of fairy lights.

  25. All the crackle of a campfire without the need to rough it: Set up a fire pit on grass or a stone patio.

  26. Guests can sink into sturdy wicker chairs, perfect for lolling in on a lazy summer night.

  27. Create cozy seating areas (you can even add indoor furniture to the mix) to encourage conversation.

  28. Even when nights grow cooler, a patio fire pit lets you entertain outside.