Easy Outdoor Entertaining Tips and Ideas

Whether you're hosting a small get-together among friends or a large neighborhood potluck, you'll entertain outdoors like a pro with our easy-to-follow ideas for outdoor parties. We've included tips for planning, decorating, and food prep -- plus our best recipes for outdoor entertaining.

Outdoor Party Planning Tips

Follow these easy outdoor entertaining tips when organizing and planning your next outdoor party.

  • Send invitations if you're going to invite more than 12 people or if you have a theme for your outdoor party. Otherwise, call or invite guests in person.
  • Ask guests if they have any food allergies or special preferences (vegetarian, kosher, diabetic, etc.), so everyone is able to enjoy the party fare.
  • Lessen the stress of hosting an outdoor party by making it a potluck. Assign each guest a dish -- appetizer, salad, side dish,   or dessert -- to contribute, so you only have to make the main dish. If you want a cohesive buffet, organize the potluck around a theme, such as Tex-Mex, Asian, or All-American.
  • Mix up the seating. If you have multiple outside spaces, set up a table, chairs, and blankets throughout the yard.
  • Make 50 percent more food than you think people will eat to ensure you have enough. For large parties, rely on dishes that will freeze so nothing goes to waste.
  • Account for anything that might prevent entertaining outside: If you think bugs, rain, heat, or cold might get in the way of your party, make sure you have a backup plan.

Get our free Party Timeline Checklist.

Outdoor Party Table Setting Tips

Set the perfect outdoor table for party guests with our easy ideas and tips.

  • Buy two of the same tablecloth if your patio table is too large for one to cover. Simply fold each in half and drape over the ends of the table.
  • Keep your tablecloth weighted down on windy days by wrapping raffia a few times around pretty stones or heavy seashells, then attaching them to the tablecloth with a thread and needle so they'll dangle from the corners and edges.
  • Coordinate your tablecloth, place settings, and table decorations to give your outdoor party table a coordinated look.
  • Carve holes into apples, pears, or other firm produce to make unique garden-theme candleholders. Produce can make attractive serving pieces as well -- serve fruit salads in melon halves and sherbet or seafood in lemon halves.

Get creative with your outdoor table place settings with our ideas.

Outdoor Party Decorating Tips

Transform your space and add a bit of elegance to your outdoor party with a few of our simple and easy outdoor decorating tips.

  • Hang string lanterns from trees to make your outdoor party glow.
  • Find inspiration for outdoor party decorating right in your backyard: Add a pretty touch to an outdoor party buffet table with a basket of pine cones, or float fallen flowers in shallow clear glass bowls filled with water.
  • Grab a pretty pot of annuals from your front step or garden and place it in the center of the table for a quick, no-fuss outdoor table centerpiece.

See more of our colorful decorating ideas for outdoor parties.

  • Use candles on the table if you'll be dining outdoors after dark. Votives can be set in wineglasses, jars, or tin cans with holes punched around the sides. To create magical overhead lighting, make wire cradles for jars and suspend them from trees.
  • String icicle lights along a fence, around a porch, or through a tree or shrub for another take on whimsical outdoor lighting.

Outdoor Party Food Prep

Keep food for your outdoor party fresh and serve it efficiently with our helpful tips.

  • Protect outdoor party food with a clean, unused outdoor cover, which is normally used to protect garden plants from frost; anchor it on the sides with canned goods.
  • Keep unwanted pests away from individual dishes using wire domes, sometimes called flywalks, which are available at kitchenware stores.
  • Serve drinks in glasses or clear bottles rather than cans, which can hide bugs in the openings. Avoiding red or yellow drinks, which can attract bugs, is another way to keep your party pest-free.
  • Follow the two-hour rule: Never serve food that's been out of the refrigerator, off the stove, or out of the oven any longer than two hours. On warm days, follow the one-hour rule.
  • Sit down to eat for an intimate gathering, and pass the food in bowls family-style. For a larger crowd, set up a buffet table and stack dishes at one end so guests can help themselves.

Get our free Appetizers Quantity Guide.

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Easy Outdoor Entertaining Menu

Try some of these fun and flavorful recipes the next time you entertain outdoors.

Roasted Cheddar Potatoes: Frozen potato wedges become spicy, thick-cut fries in just 35 minutes and are a perfect appetizer for guests to munch on before the outdoor party buffet is ready.

See the recipe.

Greek Spinach-Pasta Salad with Feta and Beans: Serve this tasty pasta salad, made with fresh spinach, olive oil, feta cheese, and canned beans, as a side or main dish for your outdoor party.

See the recipe.

Herb Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing: Mix lettuce and fresh herbs with a lemony sour cream dressing for a simple salad that's easy to make for a large crowd.

See the recipe.

Caramelized Onion Pizza: These individual-size pizzas get a smoky flavor when cooked on a grill; let guests customize each single-serving pie with their favorite veggies.

See the recipe.

Grilled Chicken with Watermelon Glaze: A sweet watermelon glaze used for this chicken recipe tastes like summer and is perfect for an outdoor grilling party.

See the recipe.

Toffee Bars: These decadent chocolate-and-toffee dessert bars are ideal for a crowd (they serve 36) and easy to make.

See the recipe.


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