From children's parties to formal dinners and friendly get-togethers, entertaining outdoors is fashionable, fun and creative. Throw a themed party on your patio or in your backyard, and guests will remember the fun and festivities for a long time. If your backyard is too small, think about setting up on your front lawn. And if you don't have a yard of your own, consider packing a cooler and inviting your guests to a local park. Keep it simple and relaxed, especially if you have to lug food or equipment.
Some public parks have grills, picnic tables and pavilions for use. Check with your local municipality to find out how many people can gather without or with a permit, what facilities you can use and the hours you can host a party. If there are no grill stands, check to see whether open fires and portable grills are allowed. Kids' and family birthday parties are especially fun when the younger set can make use of recreational facilities like swing sets and jungle gyms. Plan games and activities for casual parties. Remember to consider the size of your area when deciding on a game. If your area is tight and crowded, consider a beanbag toss rather than horseshoes.
"Outdoor lighting continues to be a popular element. String lights provide a magical setting and dazzle guests long after darkness falls," says Colleen Maiura of Lowe's.
With the various outdoor furniture sets, fire pits and outdoor heaters available, outdoor parties are no longer limited to hot summer days. Special occasions to plan your party around include Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduations, July 4, Labor Day and fall events. Themes can be as varied as a country hoedown, an ethnic cookout, summer salads and sandwiches, a Texas barbecue, elegant dinner parties, neighborhood swap parties, pool parties and lakeside fish dinners. If there is a big game or special event on TV that you want to invite your friends over to watch, consider putting a weatherproof TV outside and enjoying an evening at your own personal amphitheater.
Choose your patio or backyard furniture the same way you would your inside furniture, with lots of comfort and seating room. If the temps are low, arrange your seating around a fire pit, which will throw warmth and light into the night. If your furniture is humdrum white or beige, choose a color scheme and decorate with throw pillows. Light up the area with a string of electric lights or enclosed candles if your party is going on after the sun goes down. Again, consider your space and crowd before lighting candles or torches. Be considerate of your neighbors, but use outdoor speakers and popular music for entertainment.
Outdoor furniture is exposed to harsh elements even if only kept outside for a season. Materials such as wicker, wood, fabric, aluminum, wrought iron, steel and resin should be cleaned and maintained regularly to keep their appearance and welcoming look. You can clean most outdoor furniture with simple soap and water; if you use a pressure washer, be sure to use low settings. Don't leave pillows and absorbent fabrics outdoors overnight or in the morning dew. Use spray lubricants on all jointed pieces such as umbrellas and table hinges. Store cushions, umbrellas and most wooden furniture indoors off-season.
Be ready for impromptu entertaining. Invest in a non-breakable set of plastic dinnerware and tumblers; everyday glass and china can break, and paper plates don't seem special. Invest in a simple picnic basket to store your outdoor dinnerware. If you have an outside electrical outlet, put a table next to it so you have a place for electric buffets and warming trays. If you don't have outlets, invest in chafing dishes to keep food hot. Use table umbrellas or tents to provide shade and protection from the elements. If your outdoor dining area is large enough, spread out your food and beverage tables to encourage your guests to mingle. Keep items chilled by placing smaller bowls filled with dips, etc., into larger bowls filled with chipped ice.