15 Elegant Garden Party Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining

table setting with peonies and strawberry beverages
Photo: Matt Armendariz

Master hostesses and novices can unite around these easy outdoor party ideas. With inspired crafts, like DIY invitations and tablecloths, and simple recipes, you can spend less time fretting and more time socializing in the sun.

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Creative Party Seating

group of people enjoying dinner outdoors at table
Matt Armendariz

A seating chart may not be necessary when planning an outdoor summer party. Bring the inside out if you're expecting a large crowd and don't have enough outdoor patio furniture! If the weather is nice, there's no reason you can't bring a table and chairs from indoors into the backyard for the night.

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DIY Lemonade Stand

table setting with peonies and strawberry beverages
Matt Armendariz

Don't spend the whole party trying to top off guests' drinks. Instead, put together a grown-up lemonade stand and have guests help themselves. Use one of our creative ideas to set up an area with a large pitcher of lemonade (like this delicious watermelon and strawberry lemonade!), glasses, and garnishes. Don't forget a bucket of ice!

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Create a Simple Buffet

friends party buffet food table
Sara Forte

Whether you make everything from scratch or pick up chips and dip from the store, a pretty buffet arrangement can make any party spread look good. Start by making our DIY-dyed tablecloth. Then, think variety: multiple shapes, colors, and heights of dishes.

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Serve Family-Style

people enjoying food outdoors at table
Matt Armendariz

A casual summer gathering can still be elegant with a few finishing touches. If you don't have an extra outdoor surface to use as a food table, just add small platters to the dinner table and dress it up with a pretty tablecloth and fresh blooms. Set appetizers, main dishes, and easy party desserts directly on the table and have guests pass family-style.

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Personalized Place Settings

overhead blue and rose party place setting with nametag
Jason Donnelly

Adding a personalized place card instantly upgrades any outdoor table setting. We added a hand-written name to store-bought paper tags ($1, Walmart) to make each guest feel special. If your party requires a seating chart, this will also help you lay out the place settings before guests arrive.

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Serve a Signature Drink

lemon thyme-peach lemonade
Ray Kachatorian

If summer has a quintessential drink, it's fresh lemonade. Add sprigs of lemon thyme and juicy peach nectar for a chic but easy spin on the classic party drink. Set up a jug with glasses on the buffet so guests can refill as necessary.

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Serve a Charcuterie Board

almonds and strawberries and more on charcuterie plate
Carson Downing

A classy dinner party doesn't require serving a three-course meal. A simple charcuterie board in the summer can be just as elegant (and way less work!). Arrange fruits, veggies, crackers, and nuts around bowls of dips and spreads on a large round board ($20, Target) and let guests graze throughout the evening.

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Serve Small Bites

outdoor party buffet
Ray Kachatorian

Keep your guests full well into the evening with a medley of sweet and savory tartlets. Small bites are a perfect garden party idea, as you can take out only what you need and replenish it from the fridge when needed. Stock up on cute trays for easy transportation from the kitchen to the yard.

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Set the Table

tulip party table
David A. Land

Rather than decorating the entire backyard, focus on one area to really dress up. Use a bold tablecloth (we love how this one perfectly matches the striped umbrella!) and bright accessories to create a party place setting that pops. Colorful pink napkins and flowers around the table give this outdoor seating area a welcoming summer look.

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Decorate with Fresh Blooms

arranging peonies in glass pitcher outdoors
Matt Armendariz

In-season flowers are one of the easiest garden party ideas for decorating an outdoor gathering—especially if you can source the flowers directly from your yard! Peonies, roses, and calla lilies are all summer flowers that make a big statement. If you don't have them in your yard, head to your local farmers market to pick up a bouquet or two.

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Use Edible Flowers

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream Pie
Dana Gallagher

The party decor doesn't have to stop at the food table! We used edible flowers to decorate an ice cream pie, and the results are gorgeous. Add this extra flair to a garden party or summer brunch by making one of our edible flower recipes.

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Ditch Paper Plates

party food on platters
Victoria Peason

An easy way to class up your gathering is to break out the fancy dishes—no paper plates or plastic trays here! Serving finger food eliminates the need for each guest to have their own plates, so you can use pretty serving platters without having a mountain of dishes to do after the party.

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Grown-Up Party Favors

outdoor entertaining party favors
Victoria Peason

Don't let guests leave the party empty-handed! Instead, send them home with a grown-up party favor like individually packaged homemade granola bars. This party favor is easy to put together; make a big batch of bars and individually wrap each one. Tie with string or velvet ribbon, add a sweet tag, and place them in a large bowl so guests can easily grab one on the way out.

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Set Up Stations

berry picking station
Ray Kachatorian

Make sure you have extra supplies for each guest regardless of your party activity. For example, for berry picking, we gathered baskets, sun hats, and muck-ready boots for guests to borrow.

Other Ideas: Set out sunscreen, cup koozies, or lawn games like bocce or croquet. Extra sunglasses for forgetful guests would certainly be appreciated.

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Rent a Tent

party tent
Ray Kachatorian

Don't let unpredictable summer weather ruin your outdoor affair. Rent a tent for the day to add shade and sophistication, and use a few of our colorful outdoor party decor ideas to dress up the area.

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