10 tips for summer outdoor entertaining

This Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer party season.
May 21, 2015

This Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer party season. And although Southern California enjoys warm weather year-round, the longer days can make summer parties even more enjoyable. But if the thought of planning a gathering stresses you out, here are some tips to help you relax while you get the party started. Summer entertaining should be fun and effortless.

Keep it simple.

Now is not the time to test that elaborate new recipe you’ve been wanting to try. You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen, especially if your guests are outside on the patio. Prepare dishes ahead of time that can be reheated. Or better yet, plan for food that can be served cold or at room temperature. Also, avoid food that requires a knife to eat, as maneuvering utensils can be a challenge for guests who are standing or sitting on the grass.

Bring the indoors out.

Just because you’re entertaining outside doesn’t mean you have to rough it. Borrow the pillows from the living room so guests can be more comfortable. Take out the dining table or a hallway console table, and use it as a bar. If you have people who can help you to carry them, bring a big chair, or even a sofa, onto your patio.

Have multiple seating arrangements.

If you can spread out in your backyard, take advantage of the space. In addition to a main dining area, set up little pockets of seating all around so friends and family can move around and mingle. You can even hang a mesh canopy from a tree for anyone who wants a private tête-à-tête.

A canopy over a bench provides another seating area for guests to mix and mingle.

Let there be light.

Make sure there’s plenty of light to illuminate your space after the sun sets. String lights add a festive feel over a patio, and hurricane or votive candles cast a welcome, warm glow. You may also consider battery-operated LED candles so you don’t have to worry about leaving them unattended.

Get real.

It’s tempting to use paper plates and disposable forks, but ceramic (or even colorful-yet-durable plastic) plates and real flatware can help elevate the party. You can find inexpensive plates at the dollar store. And if you really want disposable dishes, try the bamboo plates available at health food stores; at least they won’t linger in the landfill.

Have blankets and sweaters handy.

Temperatures tend to drop markedly in the evenings here in Southern California, and guests may not be prepared for the cold. As a courtesy, have some blankets and sweaters on hand in case anyone needs to warm up. It’s these little things that guests remember.

Invite the neighbors.

Because outdoor parties can get noisy, invite your neighbors beforehand. Your invitation is not only a nice gesture, it also serves as a heads-up that there will be festivities, and possibly some noise. You’ll also be less likely to receive any complaints this way.

Don’t invite the insects.

Keep those pesky mosquitoes from spoiling your party by lighting citronella candles all around your yard. It’s also a good idea to provide some insect repellant lotion or spray for guests if they need it. And if food will be out for an extended period, purchase mesh covers that can go over the platters to keep out the flies.

Accept help.

Don’t be a control freak. If any of your guests offer to bring something, say “yes.” Having even one fewer dish to prepare will free you up to do something else. And if you really insist on preparing all the food yourself, assign each guest some responsibility, such as putting someone in charge of serving drinks.

Factor in fun.

Even if there won’t be any kids at the party, consider having some activities and games available. Everyone’s a kid at heart. Badminton and croquet are popular summer party games, but even having just a hula hoop available can help break the ice — and make for some great photo opportunities.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

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