As the heat of summer begins to abate we find ourselves pulled back outside, appreciating the last of the blooms alongside the yellow and orange tinges on the edges of leaves. With days still warm and evenings crisp, it’s impossible to resist the urge to host a backyard party. But as many of us have learned, beautiful outdoor entertaining may look effortless in photos, but it can feel overwhelming when you’re trying to execute it. Fortunately, with a little help from our (expert) friends, it's a skill we can all cultivate.
We asked the makers we trust most for their favorite tips and tricks for creating simple, gorgeous, and memorable outdoor dining experiences. They all contribute to or host outdoor meals and events as part of their work and have learned how to make magic no matter the circumstances. With their tips, you’ll be prepared to take your next backyard party from ordinary to extraordinary.
01. Set the Scene
"Engage all 5 senses: sight, taste, smell, touch, sound. Think about how your guests will interact with the beautiful setting you are creating. When you think about your environment in this way for your guests, you can create a sense of place and belonging. Draw inspiration from what nature is doing - what colors, textures, smells are you experiencing in that space? Consider how you can complement what is happening outdoors with the decor and styling for your event. If it is summer, use fruits that are in season paired with flowers spilling out of bowls and vessels that fit the theme of your event. For autumn, think about cutting some branches with their leaves still attached (it is a good time to prune) and use them to decorate the center of your table." - Katie Davis, Ponderosa & Thyme
"Create a small cozy corner with throws, pillows—maybe even under a blanket canopy and string lights to allow guests to unwind and stretch their legs with a drink." - Tina Dawson, Love is In My Tummy
"Summer months can get pretty intensely bright and hot in the backyard. If you're planning to have live floral arrangements on the table, keep them inside until just before guests arrive. Also consider using tougher flowers in your arrangements like roses and carnations (Caramel Carnations are my favorite) and dried things like foraged golden grasses or hydrangea hung to dry a week or two prior." - Jenevieve Hubbard, Wild Flora
"Keep it beautifully simple. I wholeheartedly believe that it's worth it to set a scene. Lay down a blanket and fill a jar with a few flowers. Or bring a large linen to set across a picnic table. Gather a few foraged items from the place; a few branches, wildflowers, etc. This simple task goes a long way in creating a truly unforgettable outdoor experience." - Ashley Rodriguez, Not Without Salt & Kitchen Unnecessary
02. Consider Comfort
"Never forget mosquito/bug repellents. Citronella torches or candles placed around the perimeter should do the trick. I also add clip-on repellents discreetly under the tablecloth so we can sit down and dine in peace. You don't want your guests to spend all evening swatting and scratching bites!" - Tina Dawson
"As autumn weather cools, I love to think of creative ideas to keep my guests warm. Set out a basket of cute rolled up blankets off to the side for your guests grab, cook more warming foods like a soup or warm salad for the first course and we've also been known to hand out little foot and hand warmers from time to time! One of my favorite ways to stay warm during fall entertaining is to set up a wood burning fire pit near the table. Not only is it a beautiful source of heat for your guests it also can double as a rustic, interactive cooking station: hello s'mores!" - Danielle Firle, Secret Supper
03. Include Your Guests
"One thing we love to do when entertaining outdoors is to ensure guests feel a part of the cooking process. It can be as simple as grilling toasts for a build your own bruschetta bar or slightly more hands-on, handing them bits of dough and inviting them to grill their own flatbread over the fire. Even just having the items prepared in front of them as they arrive makes for a lovely and smoke filled atmosphere." - Jaret Foster, Tournant
"Encourage your guests to contribute to the meal. This engages them in the process, makes them feel more a part of the experience and lightens the load for the host." - Ashley Rodriguez
And finally, we leave you with a bit of wisdom from Katie. "Outdoor events are so worth the effort, but be prepared in case mother nature disagrees with your plans and have a sense of fun and adventure if she does. By keeping a great attitude, your guests will follow suit."