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 season:
Now for the trimmings! Consider this Our Style Guide to Outside Eating, Drinking, and Merry-Making.
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?
Some mixy-matchy tablecloth and napkin combos:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Got any tips for outdoor entertaining? Little things that make your guests feel extra loved? Please share!