5 Easy Tips for Throwing the Perfect Outdoor Summer Dinner Party

summer dinner party tips

Perfect outside party weather is here

There is no better time to celebrate good food, friends, family, and the amazing outdoors than summertime. So, whether you like your get-togethers uber casual or nice and upscale, now is the time to start planning. Take advantage of the summer harvest bounty to figure out what your unique spins are on ripe summer tomatoes, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, peaches, strawberries, and zucchini. Start thinking about tablescapes, hanging decorative lighting, and making sure that everyone marks their calendars–because the party is ON.

Here are 5 fantastic tips to make your summer dinner party extraordinary:

Tip 1: Design and Ambiance

design and ambiance

When designing the ambiance, decor, and music for your dinner party, the first thing to select is a theme, and closely related to that, a budget. 

Budget - $

A very simple, inexpensive, “Hometown BBQ” theme with classic red and white tablecloths, plates, and napkins is a guaranteed charmer.

  • Disposable everything can keep your costs down.

  • Go even more economical by borrowing charming, mismatched sets of dinnerware, tablecloths, napkins, glasses, and silverware resources from friends and family.

  • Pull out all your old vases or large Mason jars and fill them with any blooming flowers you have in your (or a family member’s) backyard. Daisies are also less expensive options at grocery florists.

  • Small mason jars (around 8-16 oz) are great holders for strategically placed small votive candles.

  • Gather any camping lanterns (LED or butane) you can find or borrow for great themed lighting into the evening.

  • Put together a fantastic BBQ playlist (think funky classic soul, honky-tonk country, or 50’s and 60’s rockabilly) and hook up your phone to a portable speaker for all-night tunes. 

Budget - $$

For a step up in the expense department, try a “Backyard Bohemian” fete, featuring a bounty of heirloom veggies and fruits, and decor dripping in patterned silks or crochet, beads, plush throw pillows, and twinkling lights. Think eclectic when gathering items and designing your party.

  • Bring out an area rug or two to throw on the grass. Large blankets you might use for a picnic are good as well.

  • Search out different items to use as surfaces and decor around your backyard: large baskets, tall vases, small end tables, and low coffee tables. Decorate with patterned and colorful scarves, macrame throws, vases and bowls with wildflowers, and some whole fruit/veggies in season (lemons, plums, tomatoes, etc.).

  • Creating a low table with cushions for everyone to sit on is a special way to dine Bohemian-style. Get creative with this one if you don’t own a long, low table: collect wood pallets and stack them on top of each other to the desired height and cover them with cloth. You can also use sturdy plastic storage containers, or if you have a few coffee tables of the same height. 

  • String outdoor electric lights through your trees, around your porch area, along the side of your house facing the party. Use holiday lights, or the new outdoor string cafe lights with the larger bulbs available in department and home improvement stores.

  • Set up a special “fortune telling” area where guests can sit down with decks of tarot and playing cards, tarot board games, a crystal ball, a palm reading chart, folded paper fortune tellers, and more for a little mystery and fun.

  • Break out those old Gypsy Kings albums and put them to good use for some atmospheric music.

  • Have your musician friends bring their extra guitars, ukeleles, tambourines, bongos, maracas, and hold an acoustic jam to close out the evening. 

Budget - $$$

This is the one, if you have the means, to do the extra long, uber-decadent table in the backyard, with the luxurious tablescape down the middle. Think with a late summer “Mediterranean Supper” theme, and create your ambiance like you’re dining al fresco in a Tuscan garden. 

  • Assemble several large dining tables, or outdoor tables together to create the focus of your Mediterranean Supper dinner party experience. Make it as long as you need to seat your full list of guests.

  • Decorate with crisp white linens with cerulean blue accents, woven baskets stuffed with branches of eucalyptus, olive branches, or grape leaves, white vases with lavender and anemones, natural wood bowls with lemons, wood platters, and cutting boards to give you surfaces for your crudite and charcuterie.

  • Since your budget is larger, splurge on LED candles, from votives to pillars, and place them everywhere to give your party a glow as evening turns into night (and keep things safe from open flame).

  • String a collection of white, lighted paper lanterns over the length of your table to cast a glow over your guests as dusk transitions to night.

  • For a fantastic music mix for your Mediterranean Supper on Spotify start with “Vintage Summer on the Amalfi Coast.” 


Tip 2: Weather and Insect Contingencies

citronella candle

Nine times out of ten the weather will behave and your party will go off without a hitch. But, having a contingency plan in place never hurts and takes just a little extra effort. 

  • If you have a covered patio, you should be good to go in case of rain. If you don’t, set up an indoor space where everyone can gather in case of rain, number of guests permitting, of course. Also, take a look at pop-up pergolas that can be set up quickly, and stash someplace if needed. 

  • If the weather report says it’s going to be scorching, even in the evening, take a look at having several portable, battery-powered, mini-fans with spritzers so guests can cool off. A more expensive solution is a tall, oscillating mister fan, which can cover a large area and decrease the temperature sometimes up to 20 degrees.

  • When bugs and mosquitos attack, have some repellants on hand: citronella candles, natural bug incense sticks, natural spray repellant for guests, or even vials of lemon-eucalyptus essential oils for guests to dab on - a CDC-approved way to repel mosquitos.1

Tip 3: Abundant and Comfortable Seating

throw pillows

Seating can be tough, especially if it’s just you and a partner in your household. Here are some ideas for items in your house plus ways to get some assistance. Again, putting out the word to a few of your guests for a little assistance goes a long way.

  • Using large area rugs or picnic blankets coupled with throw pillows invites everyone to cop a squat and get comfortable down low. 

  • Ask a friend or two to come over a few hours before to help you transfer any sofas, loveseats, futons, etc. outside for comfortable seating. You can place them on small rugs or blankets so they don’t dig into the dirt, and cover them with throws, tablecloths, and other fabric coverings if you are a little wary of grass, food, or dirt stains. 

  • Borrow kitchen chairs, folding chairs, benches, or large throw pillows from friends, family, and neighbors that are willing to donate items for the party cause. Be willing to reimburse or replace if any damage is done, however, if you are going to borrow. 


Tip 4: Summer Menu and Drink Inspiration

tablescape with food

$ BBQ -

This is a no-brainer. Besides your grilled fares (you can do the usual ribs, burgers, and dogs, or opt for lighter chicken breast or shrimp kebabs, or marinated chicken thighs), lean into those fresh fruits and veggies, simple and au natural. 

  • Cut up a few watermelons, cantaloupe, and honeydews and serve as-is, with napkins.

  • Grill fresh ears of corn, with or without the husk, directly on the rack.

  • Thinly slice any larger zucchini from your garden (or hopefully a neighbor is trying to give them away), spray with a little avocado oil, sprinkle with a little S&P, and grill briefly on each side.

  • Drink Station - this calls for tried and true lemonade. Set up a mix-your-own lemonade station with plenty of ice, glasses, or cups, your base lemonade in a large pitcher or dispenser, and offer add-ins. Lime wedges, lavender simple syrup, and strawberry puree are all great additions to lemonade, plus a pretty paper straw.

$$ Backyard Bohemian -

Visit your local farmer’s market (or several, if you have more than one) to find all the fresh heirloom fare that you can: corn, kale, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, tomatoes, peppers, melons, etc. What you don’t use to cook with can be used for decor.  

  • Veggie salads like a cucumber tomato panzanella, or a fresh cut corn, green onion, lime juice salad.

  • Use your farmer’s market fare to showcase homemade veggie burgers. Beets, onions, broccoli, garlic, carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes can all be used as veggie burger ingredients. Prep the patties beforehand and keep them chilled so they stay solid on the grill, 

  • Dress up your Bohemian veggie burgers with high-class ingredients: thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, fresh farmer’s market pickles, crisp lettuce leaves, and sharp onion slices. 

  • Add in homemade spreads: garlic lemon aioli, hummus, guacamole, or just fresh avocado slices (preserve by spraying with some lemon juice)

  • Drink Station - Iced teas are perfect here for our vegetable fare. Set up your station with buckets of ice, glasses, teaspoons, and paper straws, and offer options. Line up pitchers with black, flavored black, green, mint, herbal, fruit tea, and any other you may fancy. With iced drinks, a simple syrup or honey syrup will be good selections to sweeten the tea.

$$$ Mediterranean Supper -

Because your main focus will most likely be the charcuterie board that stretches the length of your table, it’s time to go all-out with your decadent foods, while using as much as you can of what is in season. For a main course, try a Tuscan spin on beer can chicken by filling your beer can with sparkling wine, rosemary, and fennel sprigs. Roasting a few whole chickens on your grill to serve on big platters can be a simple yet delicious and elegant highlight to the evening.

  • The regular, obligatory charcuterie board can be turned into something extra fresh and special. Lean heavy on the fruits in season with cantaloupe and honeydew wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto, apricots, and strawberries with goat cheese, gruyere, or sharp white cheddar. 

  • If it’s late in the season enough, go for early pears, grapes, and even figs. No figs? Include spreads like a spicy fig and orange jam.

  • Find a specialty store with an olive bar, where you can select a nice variety of olives including manzanillas stuffed with pimentos or cheese, kalamatas, or even rarer ones like gordals or barouni. Also think about adding pickles, peppadew peppers, or giardiniera to the spread.

  • One last addition to your charcuterie presentation is nuts. They add a special taste, flavor, and crunch to everything else on the board. Select what you like, but a variety like walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, and Marcona almonds are all excellent. You can keep them plain or create a spice mix and toss them together in a pan to bring out the natural oils with the spices. 

  • Drink Station - Your flavored seltzer bar will lend a sophisticated taste to your drinks for the evening. Stock the station with plenty of ice, glasses, and garnishes like lemon, lime, orange slices, and frozen bing cherries. There are so many brands of flavored seltzer on the market you have a huge variety of flavors to choose from. Suggestions? Hibiscus flower, cherry blossom, blood orange, watermelon, pear, coconut, limoncello, and plum.

Tip 5: Party Takeaways

party favors

In keeping with the theme of your dinner party, jar, bottle, or bag up some of the treats that you featured during the dinner: spiced nut mix, farmer’s market pickles, olive mix, or even if you serve special cookies for dessert. Send your guests home with a little takeaway package and a special note, thanking them for coming and spending time with you.

That extra effort that it takes to send your guests home with a small, thoughtful gift will ensure that they never forget the experience, and look forward to the next time they’re invited into your home.


1 S P Frances, L M Rigby, W K Chow. (2014). Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. 30(1):65-7.