How to Plan a Casual Al Fresco Dinner Party for Summer Socializing

an alfresco dining evening
Photo: Ray Kachatorian

Hosting a casual, mingle-filled outdoor party is one of the best parts about warmer weather. Turn an evening in your backyard into a light-filled outdoor event with our tabletop, invitation, and food and drink ideas.

01 of 10

An Alfresco Dinner Party

an alfresco dining evening
Ray Kachatorian

Get in the spirit of this delightful outdoor dinner party with our lovely alfresco dinner party, which includes pretty flower centerpieces, easy lemonade recipes, lighting ideas, and plenty of opportunities to chat with guests. To create this party, we partnered with Amy Neunsinger, a photographer who regularly entertains at her Los Angeles home.

02 of 10

Outdoor Party Lights

outdoor party lantern string lights
Ray Kachatorian

An inexpensive set of string lights ($13, Target) hung in trees or over the seating area can add sparkle to backyard or balcony gatherings. They work for every summer gathering, adding an easy ambiance that can stay outside all season.

Hostess Tip: Amy's secret to instant party energy? Music. Amy relies on Sonos wireless speakers ($199, Sonos), which lets her play different music in different parts of her home. The service pulls songs from your iTunes library or online music-mix sites like Rhapsody. Plus, you can control the tunes from your smartphone or tablet, so you don't miss any table talk.

03 of 10

Simple Flower Tabletop Display

Simple Flower Tabletop Display
Ray Kachatorian

A row of low candles and tall bottle vases forms a perennially pretty centerpiece; you could add any flower you like, though peonies work exceptionally well because of their long, strong stems. See-through bottles are a must because they're not intrusive to guests' conversations.

It's easy to put together a basic party formula that you revise with different food and flowers. Reuse the bottle centerpieces, lights, and dishes for your next outdoor affair.

04 of 10

Outdoor Tableware Tips

outdoor tableware with orange and white napkins
Ray Kachatorian

The rustic beauty of an outdoor table means you needn't obsess about matching. Pink dishes from years ago work just fine with vintage flatware from a flea market. For napkins, mix-and-match fabric scraps offer an offbeat add-in. No need to hem—the lifespan of a party napkin is short anyway.

05 of 10

Side Table Outdoor Setting

side table outdoor setting with pitchers of juice
Ray Kachatorian

A side table of light refreshments and a pretty conversation-starting art piece help the al fresco dinner party flow. Top a small table with a square of fabric and add pour-your-own pitchers of lemonade. Above it, hang an outdoor chandelier made from photos. Snap flowers from your garden with an instant camera like the Fijufilm Instax Mini ($77, Target), allow each image to develop and clip them up with miniature pins to create the art.

06 of 10

Outdoor Flower Photo Display

outdoor flower photo display
Ray Kachatorian

For this photo chandelier, a tight-in shot of a single flower works well. You also could pick a few flowers in your party's colors to showcase. Don't have a garden to photograph? We have plenty of free flower images to browse through and print!

07 of 10

Lemonade Stand and Labels

lemonade stand with labels and fruit
Ray Kachatorian

This grown-up lemonade stand, where the drinks are infused with herbs and studded with fresh fruit, looks as good as it tastes. Float lemons, herbs, or strawberries in large drink pitchers to add color to your outdoor table. Labels also help guests preview their selection.

08 of 10

Grilled Salmon & Leeks with Rosemary-Mustard Butter

Grilled Salmon and Leeks with Rosemary-Mustard Butter
Andy Lyons

This easy-yet-elegant dinner party dish is topped with irresistible mustard butter. Slather it on the grilled fish and leeks for a wow-worthy main course.

09 of 10

Peach and Tomato Salad

Peach-Tomato Salad
Buff Strickland

This juicy summer salad is loaded with the best of the season. Fresh peaches, basil, and tomatoes belong together. Make them even better with a sprinkle of feta cheese, pecans, and red onion.

10 of 10

Easy Grilled Fruit Kabobs

grilled fruit on wooden kabobs
Ray Kachatorian

A casual make-ahead meal, such as pasta with tomatoes and fresh herbs and cold summer soup, ensures low-maintenance party prep for a perfect al fresco dinner party. For dessert, deliciously easy grilled fruit is as much fun as toasting s'mores and healthier. Skewer fruit chunks onto sturdy sprigs of rosemary to add flavor and flair. Then have guests grill their own in a basket over the fire pit. (A barbecue grill works, too.)

For more sturdy kabobs, you can also use reusable metal skewers ($5, Target).

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