Planning a soon-to-be-safe outdoor dining soiree? We have the best tips you need to make it a success. With the proper preparation, you can host the gathering your guests won’t stop talking about. So before you send out those invitations, take a look at my top tips for throwing a smash-hit summer soiree.
Set a Lovely Scene
Atmosphere is everything when it comes to party planning. You want to do everything you can beforehand to set a fun and festive mood, especially when it comes to a party held outdoors. Parties held indoors already have many of the accommodations guests need, but outdoor parties require a bit more work.
Before you get to work planning your decor, pick a theme. Here are a few of my favorite ideas for summer parties:
- tropical oasis or luau
- “under the sea”
- English garden party
- tea party
- backyard BBQ
- Tex-Mex fiesta
- wine night
- ice cream social
But themes don’t have to be that rigid. You could plan a party around a color scheme or certain aesthetic you like. (Pinterest is great for getting your creative juices flowing!)
Themes aren’t at all necessary for throwing a good party--just make sure to let your guests know what kind of party you’re having so they can dress appropriately. (Note: If your outdoor party setting has some rugged terrain like unstable rocks or mushy grass, it’s nice to warn your high-heel-wearing guests beforehand!)
Keep reading for more tips on how to set a swoon-worthy al fresco atmosphere.
Start By Using What You Have!
I’m a big believer that less is more. Your guests will be just as appreciative of small, thoughtful touches as they will of an ice sculpture or crystal chandelier. (Well, I guess that depends on your guests. You get the point!)
Much of what you need you already have. If it’s a fancy tea party, bust out your fine china. If it’s a garden party, pick some flowers or greenery from your garden and use them in your tablescape.
When it comes to outdoor gatherings, I like to keep things simple and relaxed. I find that guests usually expect the same thing! My advice is to place emphasis on the outdoors with natural decor.
I also find it’s not worth it to enforce any seating arrangement unless you’re specifically going for a formal theme. Let people mix and mingle, gravitating wherever and to whomever they like.
Nail the Before and After
An underrated aspect of throwing a great party is what comes before and after. What comes before is the invitation. This is your first chance to set the tone of your dinner party. You know how they say, “you only get one first impression?” I say the same logic applies here. Send a great-looking invitation, and your guests will set their expectations high! (No pressure or anything…)
After the party comes party favors! (Party favors may or may not be my favorite part of every party… Why else are they called party favors??) Once again, no need to break the bank. The perfect party favor should be a token of your appreciation and serve as a commemoration of the party for guests.
Create a Weather Contingency Plan
The greatest risk of throwing an outdoor dinner party: rain. As much as you don’t want to think about all your hard work and diligent planning being thwarted by the weather, summer rainstorms are real, and you can’t NOT plan for them. My advice is to prep your home for a last-minute change of venue.
Choose Fan-Favorite Foods
Food! It’s the crux of a dinner party (and any party, really). There are infinite ways to go about this, so I’ll keep my advice brief. There’s always the option of a potluck or catering, but if you’re going to supply the food, here are my tips:
- Make it self-serve: You can’t be a chef and a waitress. Let guests serve themselves by laying out food buffet-style.
- Choose fan-favorite foods: You can’t please everyone, but you can please most if you go with one of these three culinary hits: pizza, burgers, or tacos. Plus, these are all great for self-serving.
- Heed dietary restrictions: To be a gracious host, you must take everyone’s needs and wants into consideration. Ask your guests to inform you of any dietary restrictions when RSVPing.
Nail the Nighttime Ambiance
If your party goes on into the night, be sure your guests don’t end up in the dark. Test your lighting at night beforehand to make sure they are bright enough. I personally love using an assortment of string lights and candles to create a lovely nighttime ambiance.
Great lighting is key to ambience, but don’t forget the other senses, namely smell and sound. Burn some candles or diffuse some essential oils to create a summery and appetite-inducing aroma. Curate a playlist that gets your guests in the partying mood. (Spotify has some great premade playlists to suit just about any mood)
Keep the Bugs at Bay
Bugs are the second worst enemy of every summer soiree (beat for first place only by rain). If you live in a region with lots of bugs like mosquitos, gnats, and flies, you’d better prepare ahead of time to avoid the battle of the bugs. First of all, ensure your outdoor space has no sitting water (puddles, buckets of water, birdbaths, etc.) that can breed bugs. Second, consider investing in a yard treatment before your event. On the day of, spray citronella or burn candles with that scent to repel bugs. Finally, it never hurts to have a few bottles of Off! just in case.
Keep the Kids (and Grown-Up Kids) Entertained
If kids are in attendance (or, hey, even if it’s all adults), plan some games! Here are some of my favs:
- Lawn Twister or Scrabble
- Cornhole/bean bag toss
- Ring toss
- Hula hoop competition
- Watermelon carving contest
- Potato sack race
- Water balloon race
Who is Plum Polka Dot?
Hello! I’m Christina, the owner and designer behind Plum Polka Dot. I live just outside of Vancouver, BC with my husband and three children who are the light of my life and the inspiration behind my shop. Armed with a decade of experience in customer service, purchasing and supply chain, and project management—and a passion for crafting—I decided to launch my very own line of custom accessories, and thus Plum Polka Dot was born. Our distinctive accessories and party favors are ideal for any age—from kids through to adults—and are lovingly and individually made with a creative touch and a keen eye for the finest details.