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Outdoor parties are to indoor parties as casual Fridays are to business casual. Everything is loosened up, comfier, and it matters less if you spill on something.
Outdoors, you have permission to eat with your hands. It seems more acceptable for your playlist to switch between hip-hop and Handel. And the party will likely stretch into the wee hours without you noticing. But no matter how casual, your guests should still feel like... well, guests: comfortable and taken care of. A few little ways we're fine-tuning our outdoor entertaining chops this summer:
- Put out DIY essential oil bug repellent in pretty little jars.
- Stuff an oversized basket with pashminas or light blankets in case it gets chilly.
- Outdoor furniture can be hard, bring out some of your less-fancy pillows if people want to pad up.
- If you're serving mussels, oysters, crabs, and the like, remember to put out a big festive bowl for the shells.
- Keep a bowl of lemon and lime wedges handy. Guests can squeeze them into their drinks, or over fish or grilled veggies at will.
- Put lots and lots of water out (there's no such thing as too much)—we're fans of simple carafes along the table, every foot or so. Oh, and only set out your biggest glasses. A hot summer night is not the time for the wee ones.
- Use berry baskets to hold a stack of extra paper napkins. Your famous ribs can get messy.
Now for the trimmings! Consider this Our Style Guide to Outside Eating, Drinking, and Merry-Making.
first, set the mood
Once the sun goes down, you've got an opportunity to create a midsummer's night dreamscape. French-ish cafe lighting, firefly-sized twinkles for a fairyland feel, modern and minimal globe lanterns, and camping-approved collapsible, carry-able lamps. Which are you?
Outdoor Cafe LightingFrom $30
then, set the table
Some mixy-matchy tablecloth and napkin combos:
- Natural linen + bold gingham checks
- Chambray + bright, crinkly white cotton
- Gauzy linen with a light blue finish + fringed and heathered
- Seersucker + more seersucker
Seersucker TableclothFrom $60
Denim Flatware Place SettingFrom $42
We've got plates and forks that have just the right amount of "picnic"—and summery shades with a few zings of color keep things from feeling like a kid's birthday party.
bring out the food
Group all your must-drizzle condiments on a perky tray. On our list: has to be Heinz, at least three hot sauces, and perhaps some fancy (but actually very easy, don't tell) homemade toppings. An extra, extra large woven tray is good for covering a splotchy picnic tabletop, and carries a whole mess of dishes back to the kitchen in one fell swoop.
For bowls and platters: the bigger the better.
Handcrafted Wood BowlsFrom $65
We're fans of sticking as many serving spoons in a bowl as possible, so people can grab from all sides. And if there's any food more deserving of a serious, stunning serving utensil than ice cream, we want to hear about it.
In the backyard, tiki drinkware is anything but tacky. And for hands-off service, opt for a drink dispenser so guests can take charge of their own refills.
Seagrass Pitcher & TumblersFrom $50
Seagrass Cage Carafe & TumblersFrom $26
Pretty, pretty pitchers—for water, lemonade, or something a little stronger.
If the glasses aren't going to be shatterproof (like the Outdoor Wine Glasses at the top left, below), make sure they're heavy-bottomed so the chance of a topple is lower.
Double-Walled Glassware (Set of 2)From $50
keep everything cold
Grey Splatter Enamel BasinFrom $30
Stainless Steel Ice PackFrom $16
the special touches
When the sun sets, the air can take on a chill (if you're lucky!) so keep some machine washable blankets and throws handy so your guests can get all wrapped up. This party is waaaay too good to move inside.
And piles look so much prettier inside a giant handwoven basket.
When the conversation gets going and distracts from the cheese plate (that must be a really good conversation), cover things up with gingham-trimmed nets. What is this? A feast for ants?! No, no it's not.
A couple of candles (classic citronella or ones that smell like sweet summer tomato vines) never hurt.
ready to party?
Got any tips for outdoor entertaining? Little things that make your guests feel extra loved? Please share!