Outdoor Dinner Party Do's and Don'ts

A backyard pool in the foreground, with people mingling around an illuminated canvas tent and twinkle lights in the background.

Dinner parties are a great way to celebrate big life milestones, or simply connect with friends and family over food. Coming together and sharing a meal can help you foster a sense of community, create a chance to get to know new neighbors, or even try out new recipes on an audience. 

Over the last year, due to pandemic restrictions, outdoor parties have risen in popularity. However, there are several benefits to holding an outdoor dinner party, outside of physical health and safety. Spending time outside is beneficial to your mental health. Additionally, outside parties can be less hassle to clean up after. When planning your next outdoor dinner party, here are some things to keep in mind. 

Do: Choose Your Space Strategically

Depending on what kind of outdoor living spaces you have, some spots may be better than others. For example, you’ll want to avoid setting up directly under a tree where leaves and other debris could fall, which isn’t ideal during a meal. You should also factor in accessibility; if you’re setting up on the grass or an uneven surface, you may think of creating a pathway. 

You can use certain backyard accessories and structures to make your space more favorable, including an awning, shed, or other coverings. This can reduce direct sun exposure, and provide shelter from leaves, flies, and other outdoor pests. Backyard accessories aren't just functional  — they can contribute to the aesthetic of your outdoor space. An awning can add a bright pop of color, while a pergola or pavilion can be a great place to drape string lights. 

Don’t: Forget To Check the Weather

You’ll want to keep an eye on the weather, so you can plan accordingly. For the best results, check the weather every day for about a week out from your event. If you’re looking at low temperatures, gathering around a fire pit or having space heaters is a must. 

Weather can also change unexpectedly, so it's good to have a backup plan. Whether this is moving to a pool house, or having a covering in place, you’ll want to make sure that your guests, and your food, have some way to stay fresh and dry. 

Do: Consider Embracing a Mismatched Aesthetic

Depending on the size of your party, you may find that you don’t have enough matching plates, glasses, chairs, and other necessities. If it’s not in your budget to go out and purchase a new banquet set, then fear not! A mismatched aesthetic adds a touch of whimsy while allowing you to cater to a large group of people. You’ll find that creating a mismatched table setting that looks intentional, rather than thrown together, can be simple. Consider the following:

  • Grouping similar colors;

  • Grouping similar patterns;

  • Placing a unique set of flatware, plates, and cups at each setting;

  • Mirroring other decors to your table as much as possible. 

Thrifting or borrowing pieces from neighbors is another way to increase your amount of table settings

Don’t: Use Disposable Dinnerware

Despite the tempting easy-clean aspect of disposable dinnerware, usually, you want to avoid it for parties. Disposable dinnerware may undermine the aesthetic of the dinner, and much of it is made of single-use plastic or styrofoam, which is bad for the environment. Not only is reusable dinnerware sustainable, but it’s also less likely to blow away if there’s any adverse weather. 

You may also consider reusable cloth napkins. These can add to the aesthetic of your table and are easy to throw in the washing machine to be used for future parties. If you’re looking to go even more green, you could turn an old tablecloth into a set of napkins easily with a sewing machine. 

Do: Store and Serve Your Food Carefully

Serving food outdoors poses some unique challenges. Some of these challenges include:

  • Maintaining proper temperatures; 

  • Dealing with bugs and other insects;

  • Preventing leaves, grass, and other outdoor elements from getting in the food;

  • Protecting food from the weather.

You can mitigate these difficulties in a couple of ways. For example, investing in nets to protect dishes from flies, mosquitoes, and other insects is a cheap and easy way to keep the food free of pests. You could use warming trays to keep hot food hot; food that needs to be served cold can be kept in the shade. 

You could also bring out the food only when that course is being served, and store the rest inside. This takes a bit more serving effort, but it can also make the dinner feel that much more special by adding an element of separation between courses. You’ll want to be careful of how you serve your meals outdoors, as improper temperatures, storage, and contamination can make dishes unfit to serve. 

Don’t: Skimp on the Lighting

Good lighting for an outdoor dinner party is important for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Lighting will help your guests maneuver around as the sun goes down, and different kinds of lighting can help you set different moods. For example, candles, string lights, and other warm-toned lights help set a more cozy and intimate vibe. Conversely, bright-toned lights create a more energetic feel. 

Several different kinds of outdoor lights come with solar panels and turn on automatically as the sun goes down. These can be great options, as you don’t have to worry about turning on or off lights as the natural light changes, nor do you have to worry about finding enough outdoor outlets. 

Do: Use Decorations To Accentuate Natural Features

Working with natural outdoor features rather than against them is easier and cheaper when you’re organizing an outdoor dinner party. For example, if you have a south-facing house, you’re going to be working against the sunset. There are some easy things that you can do to avoid making your guests stare into the sun. You can position your table away from the sunset, set up an umbrella, or, in the fall and winter months when the sun goes down earlier, schedule your dinner after sunset. 

Hosting an outdoor dinner party is a great opportunity to spend some time in nature with your loved ones. You can make great memories over a delicious dinner with the sounds of nature in the background. By creating a welcoming, comfortable space, and utilizing the natural features of your space, you can be the host with the most for any outdoor soiree. 


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