How to Throw an Elegant (and Easy!) Outdoor Dinner Party

May 22, 2018

Finally, it's outdoor entertaining season! We've partnered with Arhaus to share design tips and tricks for hosting a backyard dinner party, whether you've got a huge terrace or pint-sized patio.

In a spring season delayed and pockmarked by false promise, Sam Cooke is my succor.

"Summertime and the livin' is easy…"

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His languorous rendition of George Gershwin’s jazz standard seeps out of my turntable at night, reminding me that summer will soon come. The living will be easier.

A DIY hanging "garland" of tea lights and fresh-cut flowers helps create a warm, inviting atmosphere. Photo by Mark Weinberg

A temperate climate dweller, I long for natural light that stretches through to my (admittedly early) bedtime, bountiful farmers markets, verdant gardens, and a body that is also restored by the sun and moisture-rich air. No season is a personal panacea, but Cooke’s lullaby reassures me that summer does reliably ease certain activities of modern life.

Entertaining is one of those activities. Everything about it feels easier during the warmer months: the food (protein, fruit and veggies, herbs and spices, apply fire as needed); the drinks (chilled beer or wine); the decor (if you have a garden, throw clippings in vases). Even my friends are more inclined to gather, heady with social energy and happy to travel.

In anticipation, we've planned a simple summertime spread to inspire your next gathering. Here’s how to replicate it in your own backyard—or roof, terrace, or patio.

Keep the food light, bright, seasonal, and grill-intensive.

The kitchen prepwork for our menu—Grilled Shrimp with Garlic and Lemon, and the Cuban Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad—can be done in advance, so that you can be outside with your guests when you cook. Scatter chips, nuts, or other snacks around the table to keep their hunger at bay while you do. Put a galvanized ice bucket or cooler of beer on the ground beside the table to avoid running into the house for refills.

To optimize space on the table for food and drink, hang the decor above it.

We strung up a DIY “garland” made from kitchen twine and hanging tea light lanterns (see the photo at top). Space the hanging lanterns evenly, secure to the kitchen twine with a knot to prevent them from sliding, and alternate votives and garden clippings, including their greenery.

Bench seating makes last-minute accommodations hassle-free. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Go for casual, flexible seating.

If you have an outdoor dining table, choose benches over chairs for flexibility. They make it easy to add an additional place setting or accommodate an unexpected plus-one.

If your space doesn’t allow for a permanent fixture like a dining table, consider opting for an indoor/outdoor rug instead, which have become considerably nicer in recent years. You can’t beat their durability and resilience for kids, pets, or adult dinner guests reveling with midsummer abandon. So long as your friends don’t mind sitting chabudai-style on the rug, you can carry your coffee table outside whenever you want to throw a dinner party.

Give your guests a fun fact about their neighbors for an easy conversation starter. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Make your introductions in advance.

The one downside to manning the grill is that you’re not as free to circulate. Provide your guests with place cards that will give them contexts on their neighbors. You don’t need to print their curricula vitae, just aim for lighthearted points of connection; the kind you might raise in conversation.

Something as simple as hanging tea light lanterns or hand-written place cards can transform a simple dinner party into a night you'll always remember. In partnership with Arhaus, makers of high-quality, elegant home furnishings, we're excited to bring you more smart ways to maximize the potential of your living space. Want to recreate this look at home? Shop the hanging tea light lanterns; outdoor table and bench; and rug at arhaus.com.

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An indoor and outdoor enthusiast. Happiest cooking at home with a podcast on, or hiking towards a campfire meal. Believes the best design is simple and approachable. (And thinks DIYs should be too!)