​​Outdoor Entertaining Guide: How To Throw the Ultimate Summer Fête

One of the great joys of summer is that the warmer weather and longer days afford us the opportunity to host outdoor events. There is nothing quite like a sophisticated backyard dinner party under twinkling starlight or a celebratory July 4th party complete with impromptu pool games and hearty barbecue fare.

And while many indoor party hosting skills are transferrable to the great outdoors (or, at the very least, your backyard), there are some important steps you can take to ensure your summer fête is an unmitigated success.

The Setting: Preparing to Host

The preparatory work for an outdoor party begins well before your guests arrive. Just as you would tidy your home before gathering loved ones in your living room, so too should you assess your outdoor space in advance of your guests’ arrival.

Details of a Nantucket summer home with coastal interior design
Acampora’s Nantucket Seaside Home project. Photo: Nat Rea

If you have plans for a busy summer social season, undertake this work as early in spring as possible. Walk the perimeter of your home and yard and take note of any areas that need attention. Consider the following spaces.

  • Your home’s exterior: Are there any loose shingles or trim that could use a scrape and a fresh coat of paint?
  • Your entertaining surfaces: Assess the condition of your patio, deck, pool deck, and any other areas where guests may gather. Does anything need to be fixed, power-washed, re-tiled, or otherwise primped for the season?
  • Your furniture and seating areas: How has your outdoor seating weathered the cold months? Does any of your furniture need to be repaired or replaced? And if you’d like to create a new gathering area, what pieces will you need to achieve your desired setup?
  • Your lighting and electrical outlets: Is everything working as it should? Pay special attention to lighting along walkways and pool areas – any places where the need to see is a safety concern.
  • Your landscaping: Do your lawn or plantings need special attention after the winter? Get on the books with your landscaper well in advance to ensure the appropriate lead time for tasks like re-sodding and seasonal garden bed planting.
  • Your pool: If you’re inviting your guests over to swim, ensure your pool is filled, treated, cleaned, and otherwise ready for the season.

As you work through your outdoor space, create a punch list of all items requiring attention. Then, divide up tasks into those you’ll tackle on your own and those that will require professional attention.

The earlier in the season you can begin your assessment, the better chance you have of getting a prime spot on the schedule of professionals like landscapers, contractors, stonemasons, and pool cleaning services.

The Menu: Focus on Seasonal Ingredients

Once you’ve prepped your outdoor spaces for the summer, you can begin to focus on hosting details for your upcoming party. One of the benefits of hosting a summer party is the ability to incorporate a panoply of fresh, seasonal ingredients into your menu.

Farm-fresh produce can be served with minimal prep, additional ingredients, and fuss. It’s near-impossible to improve upon the perfection of a summer peach, so let it be the star of the show!

Designing a menu of simple dishes allows you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests. Consider options like this five-ingredient heirloom tomato crostini on sourdough or grilled corn with chili-lime salt.

When it comes to main dishes, the grill is the way to go. Whether you prefer beef, fish, poultry, or a vegetarian kebab, the grill imparts its signature flavor which is the taste of summer, all in a matter of minutes. A medium-rare steak is cooked to perfection in the time it would take to preheat a conventional oven.

Dessert can be as simple as fresh berries topped with Grand Marnier-infused whipped cream or grilled stone fruit with vanilla bean ice cream.

The Beverages: Create a Simple Signature Cocktail

During the cold winter months, a multilayered cocktail with many elements can be the headliner at a dinner party. However, during the summer, the ease and fun of pitcher cocktails make them a strong contender for outdoor entertaining.

A pitcher of margaritas or sangria adds color and a festive vibe to your tabletop, and it spares you from getting stuck behind the bar cart all evening. To elevate the experience, decorate the pitcher with beautiful dehydrated citrus slices or create a station where guests can salt or sugar their drink rims, if they desire.

Incorporating some sophisticated non-alcoholic options into your drink menu is a nice touch when entertaining outdoors. This is especially true if your party is scheduled during the day, when the hot weather makes dehydration a concern.

Fever-Tree offers a line of elevated sodas that make great mixers or an upgraded alcohol-free drink option. If you’d prefer non-alcoholic beverages that mimic the genuine article, SpritzISH offers a no-proof Aperol spritz and Athletic Brewing Company makes a line of beers that are dead-ringers for the real thing.

The Tablescape: Casual Settings To Suit the Venue

When it comes to designing the tablescape for your outdoor summer party, always keep the setting in mind.

First, there are the practical considerations. Wind may be a factor, so select linens that will withstand a breeze, or use napkin weights to keep your place settings where you want them. If you choose to incorporate any lighting in your tablescape, select battery-powered candles or string lights – options that won’t go dark in the face of a wind gust.

When it comes to silverware and dishware, a basic table setting will do. Minimize the number of plates and forks you’ll need to clear throughout the evening to save yourself repeat trips up to the house. You may also consider creating a “bussing station” in your outdoor entertaining area where you can easily drop used cutlery and glassware throughout the evening.

As for decor, lean on the world around you for inspiration! Again, simplicity reigns supreme in the world of outdoor entertaining. Consider your garden’s color palette when selecting flowers for the table – you may even create mini-bouquets from your own garden, each displayed in dainty bud vases down the length of the table.

Details of a Nantucket summer home with coastal interior design
Acampora’s Nantucket Seaside Home project. Photo: Nat Rea

Or, consider turning to fresh summer herbs or other greenery for decoration. Not only does a bouquet of basil, thyme, and mint look beautiful, but these plants have the added benefit of being natural insect repellers.

The Powder Room: Stock Extra Summer-Friendly Supplies

When you are inviting guests to spend time with you outside, it’s a nice touch to provide them with some of the outdoor essentials they may have forgotten to pack for themselves.

As you prepare your powder room to welcome guests, create a station with some extra items attendees may need. Provide sunscreen, bug spray, and aloe for your guests, so they can stay safe and comfortable outside throughout the day.

Powder room with blue patterned wallpaper
Acampora Interiors’ Cozy New England Colonial project. Photo by Jessica Delaney.

If you’re hosting guests at your pool, ensure you have spare towels readily accessible. And if your pool house has showers, stock them in advance with shampoo, soap, and any skincare essentials you’d like your guests to have on hand after a dip in the water.

The Great Outdoors: Managing the Unexpected

Any time you undertake outdoor entertaining, it’s essential you prepare for the realities of weather, flora, and fauna.

Insects are part of a healthy garden or outdoor space, but they’re unwelcome guests at a dinner party! Mosquitos, especially, can be a pesky party-crasher at evening events. 

To ward them off, start with an effective repellant. If you’ve ever attended a party with citronella candles, you know they don’t do much to keep mosquitos at bay. Fortunately, more high-tech options are now available, and they are much more effective.

Ensuring your food is covered until you’re ready to eat is also an important step to keeping insects of all stripes away. Netted food covers are a chic alternative to plastic wrap, and they help ward off curious ants.

Weston Suburban Retreat kitchen
Acampora Interiors’ Suburban Retreat Project. Photo: Jessica Delaney.

When it comes to weather, have a rain plan. You may opt to take the party inside, set up a tent in the backyard, or reschedule for a later date. No matter how you choose to handle inclement weather, share your plan in advance with your guests so they can attend without worry, even if they see rain in the forecast.

Outdoor entertaining should be as joyful for you as it is for your guests. Remember, the season is light, breezy, and fun – watchwords that should guide your planning process. Sticking to a simple yet elegant approach to food, drink, and decor can help you create an outdoor party that your guests love and that you’ll be carefree enough to enjoy!