The Goods

Dining al fresco: Our guide to the ultimate outdoor fête

Take it outside! Here's how to throw the ultimate summer soirée.

Summer is a great excuse to dine al fresco! And it's easier to fit more people in the backyard than in the dining room, right? When you're planning a party, think about answering these questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why. Here are some simple steps to creating an easy and enjoyable summer soirée.

Create zones

Set up zones in a triangle formation. The bar should be the first 'station' your guests see when they arrive. Food should be as far from the bar as possible because it keeps people moving throughout the space. The top or bottom of your triangle can be a dessert table, games table or even a seating area.

Feature a bar

A planter can function as a chic and practical ice bucket, instead of using coolers. Rather than planning a separate cocktail, have sparkling water on hand – this adds a celebratory feel.

As for beverages, keep the selection simple with wine and beer. You can create height on your bar using 'metro' shelving, available at most big box stores. You may even already have one in your home! Since you'll be outside, we recommend using hearty glassware & melamine dishes, such as the tableware we got at Pier 1 Imports.

Opt for simple food

When it comes to outdoor dining, it's best to serve family style or standing buffet rather than plated. You can do a DIY table, such as a taco bar, burger bar, or ice cream bar, which makes the dining experience fun and interactive. Be sure to stack extra plates, napkins, etc on top of the shelf. For simple cleanup, designate a bin for dirty dishes. And, for an added touch that's also super efficient, pre-wrap cutlery in linen napkins for guests.

Signs add a great touch to list the event menu, or the ingredients in a signature cocktail. They're helpful for guests who have allergies and intolerances. You can also use mini chalkboards or picture frames. Write directly on the glass of the picture frame with a dry erase marker, and you can easily re-use it next time.

Seating is key

Create various designated seating areas for your guests to mingle. You can use an outdoor rug on the grass to delineate another seating area. Don't be afraid to bring indoor furniture outside, like floor cushions and poufs, such as these ones we got from Home Sense. It's also thoughtful to fill a decorative basket with blankets that guests can wrap around their shoulders as the night cools off, or that they can use to spread out on the grass to create more seating.

Layered lighting

Adding different sources of lighting helps create an intimate feel and a festive mood in your space. Add some accent lighting throughout with some lanterns, such as these ones from the S&C Collection. We also love these string lights from Home Depot.

Keep it tidy

Make places for garbage, food waste and recycling attractive and close by. You can use cool planters or laundry hampers, and it will help your cleanup at the end of the night!

You can also keep guests comfortable by placing attractive mosquito zappers in various areas around the yard.

Go green

Cedars are a great way to hide ugly spots and create faux walls. Faux hedges are also super practical because they last for years and although they're pricey, they're totally worth it!

Set the mood

For ambiance, turn music on before the first guests arrive. This makes the early birds feel like the party is in full swing. Opt for speakers that look like rocks, as they hide nicely in the yard. Flowers are also a great way to add a festive touch. You can do arrangements a day in advance to save time and to allow for blossoms to open.

Resource guide:

S&C Collection

Sheridan Nurseries

  • Cedars

Home Depot

Fresh Home & Garden

  • Faux hedges

Home Sense

  • Outdoor swivel chairs & table [5 pc set]
  • Greenery
  • Floor cushions
  • Pouf
  • Planters

Pier 1 Imports

  • Plates (3143860)
  • Plates (3003887)
  • Glasses (3142207)
  • Glasses (3022150)
  • Placemats (3146168)
  • Glasses set (3141992)
  • 6' Rug (2888389)
  • Carson wicker round large basket (2812474)
  • Loft basket – blue (3032430)
  • Emilio mosaic accent table (3025100)
  • Sarah stripes bowl (3140054)
  • Tray (3138870)
  • Blue napkins (3016020)
  • Green napkins (3010380)
  • Tray (2928852)
  • Tray (2906852)
  • Tray (2804440)
  • Light brown hamper (2739590)
  • Platter (3171421)

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