7 Fresh Ideas for Outdoor Parties

Easy ways to add new flavor and style to your next get-together

The end of summer brings a fun and festive energy that is unique to any other time of the year. And because the weather is beautiful and sunny in just about every part of the country, entertaining almost always takes place outdoors. For me, it’s one of my favorite seasons to host a get-together with friends; no matter how many friends or family members I am expecting, there is a certain ease with taking the party outdoors.

If you haven’t already hosted a dinner party under the stars or had friends over for cocktails in the grass, there is no time like now to do so. To inspire you, I’ve shared some of my favorite simple tips and fresh ideas for dressing up your next outdoor gathering with new life.

 

At a Cocktail Party

1. Create Outdoor Seating Areas

For a classic cocktail party, I love to arrange outdoor furniture into seating areas as though you were in a living room — regardless of whether I’m in the grass or on the patio. Accessorize the furniture with throw pillows and add color to coffee tables with pretty objects or vases of flowers. Passing hors d’oeurves to seated guests is easy when they’re all together. You can also place platters of appetizers on the tables for guests to help themselves.

 

2. Let Seasonal Flavors Inspire Your Menu

At a cocktail party, the most important thing is to have a well-stocked bar! When hosting a party outside, I love to do a fun signature drink, like sangria, or a fresh fruit purée mixed with cold vodka. Add color to the drinks with delicious garnishes like herbs or fresh peach slices, and then add pretty details like colorful paper straws with flags (pictured, left). These festive drinks celebrate the season and help set the mood for the whole night.  

 

3. Set Out (Lots of) Snacks

Placing a number of small bowls of bar snacks along the people up and mingling at the bar, too. I love easy snacks that can be made early in the day or purchased in advance such as spicy baked chickpeas, olives, and homemade cheese straws (pictured, right).

 

 

At a Dinner Party

1. Use Lots of Color

Summer is the perfect time to use lots of color when setting the table. I love to pull out my bright linens in all sorts of patterns and balance them with bright white plates. A couple of bright white vases filled with brightly colored flowers, and the table is complete. I recently had a party where I paired blue and white linens with bright yellow flowers for a fresh summer look (pictured, left). Pinks, reds, oranges, and saffrons are wonderful summer colors, too, and would be gorgeous as a backdrop or in large clusters when paired with white linens.

 

2. Keep Arrangements Simple and Inexpensive

I think that less-expensive items can look really luxurious when used in large quantities. A great example of this is flowers: In the summer, I will often use huge bunches of garden flowers like dahlias and zinnias in my arrangements. I’ll also use “filler flowers,” fruits, vegetables, and even weeds (pictured, right)! Yarrow is a flower/weed that can be found growing wild along roadsides nationwide; I love using it in huge bunches. Little mums and billy balls (Craspedia) are other inexpensive and readily-available flowers that are great to use.

Instead of using traditional vases, pull together a couple of mismatched jars, cans, and containers and spray paint them the same color. When they are scattered down a table, they all come together well and look cohesive.

 

3. Add Ambiance with Lanterns and Lights

Lanterns of any type are a fantastic way to create atmosphere when dining outdoors. Everything from Chinese paper lanterns to Moroccan metal spheres — even large round bulb Christmas lights — can be strung up from an arbor (pictured, left) or just a tree. I have a set that I bought several years ago that I just repaint in new colors for summer parties and string them up with colorful ribbons.

If you don’t have anywhere to string lights, use candles to create a wonderful outdoor atmosphere. Votives are gorgeous any time of year — indoor or out!

 

4. Keep the Menu Seasonal

In the late summer, the food is so beautiful and flavorful that it doesn’t need a lot of seasoning or manipulation. Clean, simple dishes like a caprese salad made with fresh basil and heirloom tomatoes, anything made with garden-grown zucchini and corn, grilled fish, and fruit desserts made from peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries are all great options. Let the produce dictate your menu — if you go with what is fresh and local, you can’t go wrong!

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