13 Outdoor entertaining hacks for flawless summer shindigs

Jun 17, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. ET

Summer is here, meaning it's time to get your guests outdoors.

But outdoor entertaining comes with its own set of challenges. Luckily these tips will make throwing your own summer soiree a total breeze.

1. Prepare food in advance

sausage cheddar balls

If you're throwing an outdoor party, you don't want your guests to be wandering around outside while you're in the kitchen preparing the food. Instead, make as much food as you can in advance so you can spend more time enjoying the sunshine with your guests. Why not start with one of these 10 make-ahead appetizers?

2. Cook outside

Barbecue brisket

Image: The Meatwave

If you can't prepare everything ahead of time, consider your grill. Sure, you'll be busy tending to your food, but at least you won't be stuck inside while your host-less guests nervously eye one another over the punch bowl. Try one of these 16 Texan barbecue recipes — your guests won't be disappointed. You can even make dessert on the grill.

3. Provide sun protection

Outdoor dining is a blast, but sitting in the sun all afternoon can lead to a wicked sunburn. Set up an umbrella, tent or other form of sun protection to keep your guests from the worst of it. You should also have some sunscreen and hats available just in case any of your dining companions are especially sensitive.

4. Get the lighting right

Tin can lanterns

Image: Grow Creative

You don't want the party to end just because the sun went down, so think ahead of time about your lighting. From fairy lights to tiki torches to tin can lanterns, there are tons of options to keep your dinner party aglow.

5. Stay hydrated

cucumber water

Being in the hot sun all day can take its toll, especially when you're sipping on a delicious adult beverage. Make sure you have plenty of water and nonalcoholic beverages outside for your guests to sip throughout the day. Try infusing water with cucumber, lemon and mint to make it a little more festive.

6. Keep it cool


Serving up cold beverages to your guests is essential, but unless you have a mini-fridge outside, you need to figure out how to do it! Try an easy DIY evaporative cooler — all you need are two containers and some wet sand. To keep liquor for cocktails cold, try encasing the entire bottle in a fancy frozen ice bucket. For a fun, celebratory look, use a bucket of frozen water balloons to keep bottles cold. You can also simply provide cozies to your guests to help keep canned and bottled drinks cool.

7. Say no to bugs

DIY citronella candles

Image: Nest of Posies

The last thing you want your guests to worry about when they're trying to enjoy their meal is bugs. Keep some bug spray near your dining area so guests can spritz away, and try using some citronella candles to ward off any flying critters. You can even make your own to keep your party decor cute. Another tip? Use a cupcake liner to keeps bugs out of everyone's drinks.

8. Have fun

Jumbo Jenga

Image: A Beautiful Mess

If your party is for kids and grown-ups alike, make sure you have plenty of fun activities for the little ones, like these water balloon piñatas. Or keep things dry with a DIY jumbo Jenga set. As long as the kids are having fun, the grown-ups will have more time to relax and enjoy your delicious food — and maybe even have a cocktail or two.

9. Get creative

DIY Watermelon keg

Tired of serving the same old beer at your parties? Switch it up with some innovative cocktails, like these vodka lemonade pouches or this DIY watermelon keg.

10. Be fancy

glass condiment dispensers

Image: One Good Thing by Jillee

That crusty mustard bottle has no place on your picnic table. Get some cheap glass soap dispensers at your local household goods discount store, and fill them with your condiments. Not only will it make your tablescape look extra fancy, but your guests won't have to worry about destroying their burger buns with the torrent of ketchup water that inevitably comes out of the traditional bottles.

11. Keep it clean

Instead of running back and forth between the house and your outdoor dining space to clear dirty dishes, keep them outside in a decorative container, like a galvanized tub or even a wheelbarrow. You'll be able to spend more time with your guests, and cleaning up later on will be a breeze.

12. Serve it up sweet


Frozen desserts are the perfect end to an outdoor meal, but how can you quickly dole them out without melting? Try one of these tricks. Make easy sliceable ice pops in a loaf pan, or try pre-scooping and then refreezing ice cream. You'll be able to serve everything super quickly so your guests' dessert will be nice and frosty when it gets to the table. For the adults, serve ice pops in a wineglass, and let them melt into your Champagne for super-easy mimosas.

13. Warm it up

Even the hottest summer days can get chilly once the sun goes down. Keep a few throw blankets outside so that when the temperature starts to cool, your guests can stay warm and the party can keep going. Or, you know... just serve more cocktails.

More entertaining ideas

8 Backyard games to keep kids entertained
Creating outdoor entertaining space
10 Etiquette rules for entertaining