The golden leaves, long orange sunsets, and soft, hazy mornings of fall bring about more than a chilly hint of winter. The transition into fall puts many plants to sleep while others like sumac, mums, and decorative grasses explode with colorful blossoms. The mild temperatures, gentle light, and beautiful warm tones are a perfect reason to host an outdoor party where you can say farewell to summer with great friends and welcome the new season with a delicious fall dinner.
If your backyard is already an oasis, then setting the scene for your outdoor gathering is the easiest step. The first thing to consider adding to transform your yard into a party space is soft lighting that will keep everything aglow long after the sun has dipped below the horizon. Shepherds hooks or braided loops of rope can be placed throughout the yard to hold lanterns, or smaller lights like the Barebones beacons, which are dimmable and have a unique chrysanthemum light pattern that adds an extra special touch to your overall decor.
Although lighting is key to decorating for a backyard soiree, it’s important to use other decorative elements to create gathering places for guests to congregate and mingle. Potted grasses and flowers can be used to separate your yard into seating areas, play areas, and dining areas. You can also collect branches or trimmings from blooming plants to display across tables or to arrange in large vases as unique centerpieces. When pulling together foraged elements, it’s best to have a good mix of same-colored trimmings to use as a base, then to sprinkle in an odd number of contrasting blossoms in eye-catching colors, then finish with an oversized statement flower or branch. If your yard is lacking in florals and natural textures, bring in some pumpkins or gourds to add to your decor.
Beyond using plants to enhance and decorate your yard, bringing out cozy textiles like throws, floor cushions, oversized pillows, and durable serape blankets will ensure there are comfortable seating areas with colors that complement your natural foliage. If you have a fire pit or area for a fire, stumps used for chopping wood can double as extra seats, and split logs can be stacked carefully nearby so anyone can keep the fire going. If you plan to seat guests near the fire on the ground, make sure they won’t be downwind from it so they don’t get embers or smoke in their faces. If your party will be going late, you’ll want to keep additional throws available for cooler temperatures. Simply roll throws into small bundles and tie them off with twine, then stack them like a pile of split logs for guests to grab when they feel chilly.
The best fall-themed dinner parties include warm drinks as a staple for the night. For those who appreciate the finer things in life, a spiced mulled wine served in mugs will warm both hands and hearts. Non-alcoholic drinks can be just as fun as alcoholic beverages - be sure to note the differences so guests don’t accidentally grab the wrong mug - so include a warm apple cider and add dried spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. For cold-drink enthusiasts, craft a batch cocktail that also features seasonal spices and fall flavors, or reach for local craft beers that offer seasonal specials and sparkling ciders. Double-walled ice buckets will keep cans and bottles cold without leaving behind moisture from condensation, so you can grab a variety pack of drinks and let guests help themselves. Set out some pens, markers, and stickers with plain paper cup sleeves so your guests can customize their cups or bottles for the night.
Keep your friends busy between drinks with a few competitive games like horseshoes or bocce. If your yard is especially bountiful with a wide array of foliage, you can set up a build-your-own bouquet station with foraged branches and blossoms. Keep a stack of craft paper nearby so everyone can wrap and take their bouquets home.
Once the drinks are all in order and the activities are planned, the fall feast and fall appetizers are the next items to prepare for your seasonal get-together. Crafting a wide variety of dishes adds another opportunity to bring out more colors for your party decor, plus including a combination of small bites and appetizers as well as a few heartier dishes will appeal to all types of diners.
Focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables like squash, pumpkin, and apples and use functional serving tools like cast iron that will keep your meal warm without requiring your constant attention. Make fresh cornbread and serve it from a Barebones cast iron dutch oven - the rounded bowl perfectly browns bread crusts. Make a spicy pumpkin chili in a cast iron dutch oven and serve directly from it to keep your table setting cohesive. Cast iron cookware also enables you to prepare your hot foods in advance, giving you extra time to button up any final touches before your guests arrive. Mix in trivets to protect your dining table from the heat of your cast iron serveware and scatter a collection of oversized jars among the dishes to hold utensils and help keep the table organized.
If you don’t have a dedicated dining space with tables, you can use benches, stumps, or stools as mini tables, or you can build temporary tables by laying planks of boards across tree stumps and covering them with serape blankets or other throws to protect everyone’s arms and hands from splinters. After dinner, bring the group together around the fire to roast marshmallows and make s’mores for dessert. Bring out specialty chocolates with dried fruits and sea salt to provide an elevated flavor experience. For a simple and seasonal twist on the classic s’mores, top chocolate chip pumpkin cookies with your roasted marshmallows.
Send your guests home with a reminder of the flavors and scents from your evening with small natural incense bundles that you can prepare in advance. The incense bundles can be elaborate or very simple, just place spices like cinnamon and clove with some dried citrus peels or herbs like dried sage into a butcher paper square, then tie it off with cooking twine. Place your bundles in a decorative basket near the door or wherever your guests will be leaving from, and use a chalkboard sign to remind them to “grab one!” Whenever they want to reminisce on your gathering, they can toss the bundle into any fire pit or fireplace to release the festive scents of fall.
The late, great Anthony Bourdain once said, "I learned a long time ago that trying to micromanage the perfect vacation is always a disaster. That leads to terrible times." The same is true for parties. You can’t control every aspect of a party, but you can plan ahead and combine beautiful decor and delicious food to set your party on a path toward success. Take the ideas and lessons you learn from your fall get-together and use them to guide your next elevated gathering.