15 Tips for Hosting the Ultimate Al Fresco Party

Summer should be laidback, not stressy. Same with the outdoor parties you’ll throw. Since hosting any kind of party can be rife with anxiety, in summer you need to be extra smart and organized to make sure things stay chill, both for your guests and (this is essential) you. Here are 15 tips to make it so.

1. Block the burn

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Some guests will want to bask in the sunshine, others will want to find some cover. Prepare for both options. The sun just takes Mother Nature’s cooperation, but for shade, consider investing in a canopy or even a large sun sail to stretch across part of the backyard.

2. Think of everything

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Provide an easily accessed stash of guest amenities: sunblocks of various SPFs; hats for women, men, and kids; mosquito repellant; and umbrellas or parasols.

3. Take a seat

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If you don’t have enough indoor chairs, stools, blankets, and benches to drag outside, consider rentals. You can usually rent a couple of dozen basic folding chairs for less than the cost of a couple of six-packs of craft beer.

4. Keep it comfy

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Nobody likes to be perched on a hard seat or regretting that they didn’t pack a hoodie when the evening chill descends. Supply hard seating with cushions or blankets, and drape outdoor seats with throws.

5. Draft a bug plan

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You don’t really want to be spray-fogging your elegant Tuscan buffet to get rid of mosquitos. Stock up on Deet-free bug wipes for your guests, and please: Get rid of any standing water well before the party starts. Also helpful: a few strategically positioned electric fans.

6. Protect your assets

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Set the buffet up where it’ll be sheltered from sun, excessive bugs, and (fingers crossed this doesn’t happen) rain.

7. Reduce waste

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If you plan to use disposable cups or glasses, set up a system for your guests to ID the one they’ll use all party long. Set out wine charms, stickers, Sharpie pens, and labels on a little station next to the bar.

8. Edit the menu

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Whatever kind of party you throw, you never want to be consumed by a la minute tasks, like making omelets to order. This is never truer than with an outdoor party spilling out of the house and sprawling the width of breadth of your backyard. Keep the menu simple (perfectly ripe fruit on skewers), tight (5 or 6 dishes, not 12), and as friendly as possible to everybody’s preferences (vegan and gluten-free options, please!). When in doubt, leave it out.

9. Share the love

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Leave the menu partially open to your guests by asking them to bring a dish. Potlucks are perfect for the casual, open, and collaborative nature of all but the stiffest of garden parties. Provide drinks, some basic proteins, and bread or a big green salad, then let the guests fill in around the edges.

10. Tease, don’t blast

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Your neighborhood pool party isn’t spring break: Keep the tunes to a background buzz that adds to the bubbly atmosphere, not an impediment to conversation. Raising the speakers above ear level helps, and pointing the speakers at a wall or the side of the house creates a more ambient sound.

11. Acknowledge your limits

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Nobody expects you to be Martha Stewart (even, we’re pretty sure, Martha Stewart), so enlist some good buddies for help: arriving early to set up the buffet, helping keep an eye on the food, drink, and kids.

12. Go for the glow

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Have a lighting plan for when the long summer day draws to a close. Votives in glasses, strings of café lights, a floor lamp borrowed from the family room, powered by its own secure outdoor extension cord. Think mood and intimacy, not overhead blare.

13. Keep the little ones active

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A kids-only zone requiring minimal adult supervision with a cornhole game, a Slip’N Slide, lots of bubble makers—it’ll let parents and non-parents alike get down to the business of having a good time.

14. Set up the grill

Chances are good at least some of the food will need the services of a backyard barbecue. Give this area of your patio or deck at least as much attention as you would setting up a bar. Make sure everything’s clean and scraped, there’s plenty of fuel, foil, and lots of tongs, platters, and towels. Oh, and make sure the grill cook has the proper light as night falls.

15. Have a chill time

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It’s summer, right? Plan to have a good time at your own party and your guests will follow your lead. If you’ve taken care of all the details, you’ll be able to enjoy your own al fresco bash.

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