25 Tips For Great Outdoor Entertaining
Hosting for friends and family can be a lot of fun…unless you realise, that morning, that there’s 25 people invited, you have an 8-seater outdoor dining area and there’s no gas for the BBQ. Get organised with these 25 tips that cover everything from planning and decorating your outdoor area, to making sure your guests are comfortable, entertained and well-fed.
Expect nothing; be prepared for anything. The key to successful outdoor entertaining is preparation and planning.
1) Rain, hail or shine
Our Australian weather can always turn in a moment! Light showers might be tolerated if you’re in a covered area, but arrange a backup space indoors. If it’s breezy, make sure everything is weighed down; put heavier dishes or decorative ornaments on top of things like napkins and stabilise the corners of the tablecloth.
2) Prep the area
Lawn a little long? Outdoor furniture a little dusty? Spider webs around the place? Spruce up your area and don’t forget to check that there’s gas for a BBQ or rubbish bins within easy reach for your guests, if needed.
3) Don’t forget inside!
Your guests will be popping in and out of the house occasionally, to lend you a hand or to visit the bathroom, or it may even be moved inside if the weather turns, so ensure everything’s neat and tidy. If your guests are new to your home, consider putting up a couple of signs, both outdoors and indoors, pointing to the bathroom.
4) Create Facebook invitations for your guests
Even if you’re having a relatively casual gathering, invitations are a great idea. With Facebook, it’s easier than ever, and will help you keep track of who you’ve invited and how many people to cater for. Plus, you can include things like weather considerations or entertainment suggestions, and raise some excitement in the lead up.
5) Work out how much seating you need
When you know how many guests you’ll be entertaining, ensure adequate seating for everybody. Introduce a mix of options: lounge and deck chairs, oversized cushions, bean bags, and benches that can be used as both seats and tables. For the kids, a rug with floor pillows and games is a great space for them to hang out and enjoy the party.
A few well placed decorations and carefully decided themes can leave a huge impression on your guests and make your event a unique affair.
6) Light it up!
Few things are more important than great lighting, especially at outdoor gatherings. As the day begins to fade, you’ll want to ensure you introduce enough lighting to your outdoor area – for both practical and aesthetic reasons.
There’s plenty to choose from when it comes to outdoor lighting options. Try mixing and matching them for a unique effect:
- Candles: The classic outdoor lighting choice, you can choose from pillar candles for tables, tealight candles in glass jars, floating water candles or outdoor glass lanterns. If the flame strikes a concern, you can always opt for the battery-operated options.
- Paper lanterns: These are inexpensive and create a stunning lighting effect. String them up between trees or around the patio to add some soft light to the area. Colourful lanterns will also add a festive element during the day.
- String lights: Coming back in a big way, festoon and fairy lights are easy and magical. Create patterns, form a net, bundle into mason jars, coil through the centrepiece or simply drape casually around the space.
- Solar lights: Scattering solar lights around the garden turn on as soon as the dimness grows and glow beautifully – try to find some that throw intricate patterns across your garden.
7) Thoughtful tableware
Putting a little extra effort into your table setting can go a long way when it comes to outdoor entertaining, and it doesn’t need to break the bank. Match your tablecloths or coverings with your overall theme and remember place mats if you want to avoid stains.
With your tableware, you can choose to go modern, elegant, rustic, or vintage, or opt for an eclectic effect by mixing and matching different types together. If you want to go disposable, remember that eco-friendly leaves a better impression amongst your guests; bio-degradable bamboo tableware is the perfect option, and looks much better than plastic too.
For a bit of table decoration, throw together a few simple centrepieces. Pick some fresh flowers and greens from your garden, use your lighting creatively, or create edible centrepieces with herb garlands or rustic fruit or vegetable spreads.
Try introducing a theme to your outdoor gathering. Coastal, garden party, or rustic themes offer fun decor ideas, or cultural themes such as Moroccan, Mexican, Caribbean, French, Americana or Spanish allow for festive food and drinks. You can even encourage guests to accessorise or dress up if they want to – especially the kids!
10) Think outside the box
Instead of using eskies or ice buckets for keeping drinks cool, re-purpose a quirky household item like a wheelbarrow or large plant pot. Recycle vintage food tins to hold fresh garden flowers, or use clean, chalk-labelled terracotta pots for holding cutlery. The creative options are endless when it comes to decorating for an outdoor party!
11) Get crafty
Here’s one the kids can really get involved with: getting crafty and creating your own decorations. Try making some paper chains, lanterns, drink tags or charms, placeholders or decorative paper place-mats.
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12) Make seating as comfortable as possible
There’s sure to be a mix of sitting and standing at your party, but when your guests do take a seat, you’ll want to be sure they’re comfortable. Make a range of seating options available, and help guests get comfy by providing plenty of cushions.
13) Get pets and pests under control
Light citronella candles or incense torches, place nets or lids over food and make sure insect repellent spray is available for guests – preferably the lightly-scented kind.
Also make sure that pets aren’t going to get in the way; guests may not love a large dog leaping onto them to snatch a spring roll out of their hand, or licking their toes under the table. Pets also may feel threatened or anxious around so many people, so ensure that your pet is in a safe, comfortable space for the party or that your guests are happy to have them present.
14) Keep it cool
Summer is the perfect time for outdoor entertaining, but hot days and humid nights can get a little uncomfortable. Make sure there’s plenty of shade available from structures, trees, large umbrellas, canopies or shade cloths, make sunscreen readily available, position electric fans around the space and ensure there’s plenty of ice for drinks.
15) Warm it up
You don’t have to hibernate during the cooler months – an outdoor party can be just as pleasant in winter as it is in summer! Patio heaters are a great investment, or a fire pit is a wonderful addition to any backyard, and gives the feel of a cosy campfire when it’s lit up during an outdoor gathering. Blankets or throws draped over chairs will also allow your guests can warm up without having to stand by the fire or heater.
What’s a party without entertainment? Here are some great ideas for entertaining party guests, young and not-so-young.
16) Play that funky music
Music can be the key to making sure your outdoor party is a hit! Set up some speakers and get the tunes flowing. With Spotify, iTunes and every other music app these days, a playlist is super easy to chuck on and enjoy without worrying about what to play; just make sure it’s not too loud for comfortable conversation.
17) Keep the kids busy
Make sure there’s no chance for the kids to get bored – because that’s when things can get out of hand. Create a ‘kids’ corner’ in the backyard, where all your younger guests can congregate and play together. Put out games, paper and pencils/crayons for colouring in, and fun little party favours, like bubbles.
18) Set up some backyard games
Kids aren’t the only ones who like to play! Cards, board games and backyard games can be a great hit at outdoor gatherings, and children and adults alike can get involved. Bocce, croquet, badminton, lawn bowls and backyard cricket are an inexpensive way to create a little friendly, active competition and excitement to the event.
Food and drinks
Ah, the most important part of any party: food and drinks! Keep everyone delightfully watered and fed with these great tips.
19) Don’t go overboard with the food
Large, sit-down meals can mean overly full, sleepy or uncomfortable guests. Simple finger food will keep guests sated, share plates bring a fun, communal atmosphere and grazing tables are a beautiful way to offer a mixed spread. Have a mix of fresh, healthy, indulgent, cold and hot foods to offer the best of both worlds.
20) Practice proper food safety
No one likes food poisoning! Make sure any food items that need to be refrigerated are chilled on ice, and cover any dishes that might attract flies or other pests. Be sure to thoroughly clean all utensils and cooking implements, such as your BBQ, before and after use. Don’t leave anything out for more than an hour or two, and a meat thermometer is useful to have on hand, so you’re not guessing about whether meat is cooked or not.
21) Check if your guests have any dietary requirements
Have guests specify their dietary requirements when they RSVP. Check for food allergies or intolerances, such as gluten, nuts or dairy, and be sure to have vegetarian and vegan options on hand for ethical eaters. If you’re serving foods containing potential allergens, make sure everyone’s aware to avoid any mishaps.
22) Prepare as much food as possible in advance
In the few days leading up to your party, make sure you have all the ingredients and serving supplies you’ll need. Pre-cut vegetables, separate or marinade meat for the BBQ, and choose some dishes or desserts that can be pre-made and refrigerated a day or two before the event. This ensures you won’t have to spend the whole party in the kitchen and allow yourself the freedom to be outside and enjoy the festivities with your guests.
23) Serve a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
Drinks are a must at every party. Be sure to cater to drinkers and non-drinkers alike with a mixed variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Wine, beer and cider are all easy favourites, whilst cocktails and spritzers are also a fun option. For those not drinking alcohol, provide a selection of soft drinks, juices, or even a big bowl of fruity, non-alcoholic punch, and ensure there’s enough chilled water for everybody to drink.
24) Consider having a drinks station or a portable bar cart
For an alternative to your standard esky or outdoor fridge, a DIY bar cart or drinks station can be easy to set up on its own table in your entertaining area. Simply lay out everything needed for guests to mix their own delicious drinks: glasses, ice, spirits, cocktail shaker, mixers, garnishing fruits, straws and swizzle sticks. You can keep standard beverages such as wine and beer on ice nearby for those who don’t want cocktails.
25) Match your drinks to the weather.
When the weather’s warmer, serve icy cold cocktails, soft drinks, beer, wine and cider and keep the ice stocked. Fruit ice cubes are also a great idea – simply freeze some fruit and water in ice cube trays for a fruity, refreshing addition.
In the cooler months, warm drinks are a perfect choice for your guests. Stock up on teabags, coffee, sugar and milk, and there’s nothing like a good hot chocolate at a winter party. For something with a kick, mulled recipes for mead, cider or wine bring magical, robust notes of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and the warm temperature gives you something cosy to sip on.
Written by Claire Bradshaw
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