Easy Tips for Effortless, Stylish, Guests-Don’t-Wanna-Leave Patio Entertaining

Patio entertaining isn't just about the drinks and food. Our tips get your outdoor space ready for a crowd, minus the bugs, sunburn and after-dark chills.

Friends eat and talk at a dinner party on a patio, close upShutterstock / Monkey Business Images
Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

Need to get your patio party-ready for family and friends? Although you can’t control the weather, there are a few things you can do to guarantee a good time. From what you see to what you serve, here are a few tips that will put your patio entertaining over the top. (We’re assuming you’ve already got dinner down—perhaps one of our 5-star grilling recipes?)

Assess the View

Let’s get the nitty-gritty (literally!) out of the way first. Take a good hard look at your outdoor space and consider the 360-degree view. Will your guests be treated to the lovely sight of your garbage cans front and center? If you can’t store them elsewhere, create a nice screen with potted plants to hide them and any other unsightly items from view (haul indoor plants outside for the day if necessary). Solar lawn torches set into the pots provides easy night lighting and extra camouflage. And I hate to ask, but is there mildew on the back of the house? Do the windows need to be washed? Try looking at your space with the fresh eyes of your guests, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing. Addressing these minor issues means you’ll be ready for impromptu gatherings all season long. (Make sure your indoor space is spic-and-span, too, with this cleaning checklist.)

Have a Seat

Whether you’re having a casual stand-and-snack soiree or a big backyard barbecue, your guests will need a place to perch. Set up a chat corner by grouping several chairs together and adding a small table to hold drinks or snack plates (indoor furniture can work here). Add comfy cushions to encourage lounging and conversation (also a great way to add a pop of color). Then pull those chairs to the table when it’s time to eat. If you won’t have enough chairs for everyone, pick up an inexpensive picnic bench, spray paint it a bright color and add some inexpensive cushions. Voila!—instant seating. For a quick makeshift dining table, lay a door (minus the hinges) over two sawhorses and cover it with a bright tablecloth.

Save table space by placing condiments on a tiered serving dish or lazy Susan (see 10 more genius ways to use a lazy Susan here).

Set the Mood With Lighting

Lighting is step one in creating party ambience, so if you’re doing evening entertaining, do it up right. Candles are great, but a challenge when it’s breezy. Scatter flameless pillars and votives throughout the space and on the dining table for a worry-free glow, or place regular candles in tempered mason jars, glass hurricanes or vases (clear or colored) for wind protection. If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor electricity and have sturdy tree limbs nearby, hang festive lighted paper lanterns or strands of tiny white lights. (Wind them around the tree trunk and limbs to create a dramatic outline.) And don’t think just about lighting from the top down. Consider uplighting beautiful trees or bushes, or highlight the edges of your patio and gardens by staking rope lighting along the ground. (Just make sure electrical cords aren’t a trip hazard.)

Bring the Bar Outside

Having self-serve drinks handy on the patio saves traffic traipsing in and out of the house and you from constantly having to refill glasses. At the most basic, fill a cooler with ice and an assortment of drinks and stash it under the table or somewhere out of the sun. Or get creative by filling a vintage washtub or clean wheelbarrow with ice and drinks. If you want to get fancy, create a signature cocktail and pour it into pretty pitchers or a large beverage dispenser on a bar cart. For a truly refreshing twist, try spiking some homemade popsicles with your favorite liquor or wine. And make sure you have plenty of water, lemonade or non-alcoholic drinks on hand for designated drivers.

Serve Fair-Weather Food

From party appetizers to grilled burgers to light summer dinners (get 60 Instagram-worthy summer recipes here), whatever you serve should be able to hold up outdoors. Avoid serving foods that are affected by humidity, like honey-roasted peanuts (they’ll stick together) or chocolate snacks (they’ll melt). If you’re set on serving dairy-based dips or salads, fill a large bowl with ice, sprinkle it with kosher salt and set the dip container into the ice to keep it cool. Keep insects at bay by placing fine metal colanders upside down over dishes until serving.

Bust Bugs

If bugs are a big problem, poke straws through paper baking liners and set them upside down on top of drinking glasses for protection. You can also make a natural bug repellent by planting fragrant herbs like lavender, mint, tansy and rosemary in a pretty container to use as your table centerpiece.

Set patio table featuring a pitcher of lemonade and a potted centerpiece with an American flagTaste of Home
Taste of Home

Add the Finishing Touches

Now that you’ve covered the basics, add the details that’ll have your guests asking, “When can we do this again?”

• Create a refreshing, cohesive look with a planned color scheme. Choose no more than three colors and weave them throughout your plates, napkins, place mats, table runners, candle holders and cushions. Check out your local dollar store for inexpensive colorful ideas.

• Have a basket or bucket filled with helpful essentials like sunscreen, bug spray, sun hats and hand fans and invite people to help themselves. If there’s no room for it on the patio, plant a shepherd’s hook in the lawn or garden (or use a friendly plastic pink flamingo) and hang the bucket there.

• Get everyone in a party mood with a backdrop of festive music—but keep it at a decibel level that still allows for conversation. Place inexpensive wireless speakers around the space for stereo sound.

• Set up yard games like ring toss, cornhole or croquet and encourage some friendly competition, especially if kids are invited.

• Keep guests cozy by draping several blankets over the backs of chairs so they’ll be at the ready when cooler evening air creeps in.

• And the obvious: Make sure the guest bathroom is clean with plenty of towels and toilet paper.

• Plus: Always—ALWAYS—have a Plan B in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Spending time outdoors with family and friends is the best part of summer. Make the most of it—and your outdoor space—with these guest-ready tips. The only danger? They’ll want the party at your house every time!

Our favorite party recipes? These impressive slow cooker dishes.

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Dana Meredith
Dana is an editor and writer who shares her passion for travel, food and the beauty of American landscapes. When she's not wielding her red pen, she can be found tending her flower gardens, remodeling her house, creating one-of-a-kind jewelry or dancing to "Uptown Funk."