Outdoor Entertaining Buying Guide

Gentle breezes, green leaves, the warmth of sunlight... what could be better than summer? (If you answered, "a session in a sunbed," we have more to worry about than decorating ideas.) One of the best ways to enjoy the beautiful weather is with an outdoor party. A party in your yard or on the terrace can be as casual or as elegant as you like, and it's appropriate for company of all ages--most of the time. We won't speak of the Drunken Grandma incident.

Our guide below will help you find everything you need to throw the party that people will be talking about for the rest of the summer! 

Entertaining Tips

When entertaining outdoors, it's important to remember a few things:

  • Serve seasonal foods--no one goes to a cook-out to have stew or plum pudding.
  • Be prepared. Set out the dishes in advance, and make sure you have enough of your preferred fuel if you are grilling. And don't forget to pick up some ice!
  • Don't be afraid to turn up the music. A battery powered set of speakers  and your iPod  can go a long way!
  • Check with your neighbours. Even if you're only planning to have dinner with friends in the yard, you can make a lot of noise, so check with them first, especially if you're hosting your party on a week night.
  • Using light yet sharp garden shears , trim all your greenery and wipe down your party space. A clean patio or deck is a lot more appetising than one strewn with leaves and dirt.
  • Finally, be sure to have a rubbish bin  (with a lid!) nearby so the Great Outdoors ends up as unspoiled and picturesque as it started.

Tuck In!

Whether you're serving food or just having an informal cocktail hour, there are a few things you need to have on hand if you want happy, party-ready guests.

Unless you and your guests are extremely graceful (balletic even!), outdoor dish ware  is a good idea for damage control.

Keep beverages and perishable items cool with an ice bucket . Be sure to refill the ice as it melts.

Patio furniture  will dress up your yard and give people a place to get comfortable. A mosaic table  dresses up any party.

Plastic serving ware  is a must-have. Remember: just because it's functional doesn't mean it has to be dull!

Set the table with some natural, woven place mats  and tie your décor together.

Al Fresco Dining

Eating outside is a nice change of pace, especially if you have company. Set out a spread of tasty, easy to eat finger foods and drinks and you'll have happy guests. Well, maybe not happy but, worst case scenario, they can walk away saying "Well, at least they put out something!"

Light Snacks

Crudités  are very quick to put together. You can keep things simple and lay out dip  with some freshly chopped veggies, or go the easy route and buy a platter from the market.

Salty, fatty treats are a big part of outdoor dining. If you're feeling basic, present some vinegar crisps . If you're more of a foodie, tortilla chips  with salsa verde  might do the trick.

During prime asparagus  season (May through June), you can barbecue a bunch of asparagus in a flash, using lime juice  and some spring onions .

Summery Drinks

Whether it's handmade or purchased, a tall glass of lemonade  is a refreshing outdoor drink. It certainly beats putting out cola.

Unless your guests are very particular about their beer, any brand of beer  will do for a barbecue, so long as it's cold.

Or your guests can enjoy a refreshing summer cocktail. Margaritas  and Piña Coladas  are tops, just be sure to have lots of shaved ice on hand.

Dinner Time!

Kebabs skewers  are fast, flavourful, and generally barbecue friendly. They're filling without leaving you stuffed, perfect if you want to play games or dance after eating.

Hamburgers  are standard outdoor entertaining fair. Whether they're cliché or classic is up to you, but if we were a guests, we'd a be a little disappointed without them.

Seafood, like prawns ,swordfish , and salmon , is delicious when grilled on a hot summer evening.

You can also enjoy antipasto ,sausages , and courgettes  with your outdoor meal, not to mention fresh fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe .

Set the Mood

While friends, food, and fun should be first on the list, a little ambiance never hurt anyone. Set the mood at your outdoor party with a few elegent touches.

If you're hosting an evening party, paper lanterns  are a beautiful decorative touch.

Faerie lights  aren't just for Christmas. Choose flowery string, miniature paper lanterns, or plain white  or coloured  lights depending on your theme.

Cushions  cosy up your seating arrangement and create an inviting atmosphere.

Outdoor sculptures, like sundials  or distinctive planters  not only make your yard more interesting, but they are also good conversation pieces.

Tealight candles  and their glass containers  cast a romantic glow, but are not recommended if young children are present.

Stay Comfortable

Patio Parasols  provide some much-needed shade from the warm summer sunshine.

Always keep sunblock  on hand to protect your guests from nasty sunburns.

Too many guests? A soft blanket  on the ground adds clean, comfortable seating.

Citronella candles  will help discourage bugs from crashing the party.

Insect traps  are another way to keep away those annoying critters. 

If nights are cool (or if Mother Nature is just plain fickle), a patio heater is essential.

Fun and Games

Having lots of toys and activities on hand is engaging for everyone, but it's especially important if you and your friends are craving some grown-up time and you need to distract the younger set. Or if you are the younger set.

Flying Disks 

What kind of outdoor affair are you hosting without a flying disk? Okay, they're not a necessity at a proper garden party, but at nearly every other event, they're practically the guest of honour.

Inflatable Pool 

A must if your gathering will include young guests. Whether we mean small children who will require supervision in the water--or drunk students who tend to make their own bubbles--is entirely up to you.

Bubble Blowers 

Small children love to play with bubbles, whether they're dealing with a battery powered bubble machine like the Gazillion Bubbles Machine --perfect for endless bubble chasing around the garden--or just a kid with a wand and some dish detergent.

Salsa CDs 

It may take a few drinks to get your friends to dance, but once they get going, nothing beats a fast and lively salsa number. Besides, Techno sounds ridiculous when played outdoors.

Lawn Games 

We've never actually seen anyone playing these games, but they do give guests something to do. Plus, in the world of backyard projectiles, lawn darts beat water balloons, if only for their name. Lawn darts!

Water Pistols 

Nothing breaks the ice at a gathering like arming your guests with the ability to soak one another. Definitely an after-dinner activity, unless your invitations included instructions to bring a change of clothes.

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