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How to Host Outdoor Summer Gatherings at Home

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Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of your outdoor space and host unforgettable gatherings with friends and family. Whether you’re planning a casual barbecue, an elegant garden party or a festive poolside soirée, a little planning and creativity can turn your backyard, patio or balcony into the ultimate summer entertainment spot. Here’s how to host outdoor summer gatherings at home that will leave your guests talking for weeks.

In This Article:
  1. Know the Occasion
  2. Set a Budget
  3. Create a Guest List
  4. Clear Your Outdoor Space
  5. Set the Stage With Comfortable Seating
  6. Create Ambiance With Lighting
  7. Keep Bugs at Bay
  8. Keep Everyone Cool
  9. Curate a Delicious Menu
  10. Provide Refreshing Beverages
  11. Plan Entertainment and Activities
  12. Prepare for the Weather
  13. Decorate Thoughtfully
  14. Make Clean-Up Easy

1. Know the Occasion

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of decor, food and activities, you’ll need to decide on the type of gathering you’re hosting. Whether you’re celebrating Memorial Day or the Fourth of July with a classic American barbecue (think red, white and blue decor, grilled favorites and festive sparklers), a graduation party for your recent grad, an intimate dinner party or a themed event (think: tropical luau, backyard camping, outdoor movie night), there’s no shortage of reasons to host a summer gathering.

2. Set a Budget

After you’ve decided on the occasion, it’s a good idea to set a budget. Start by determining the total amount you’re willing to spend, then allocate that amount into portions for categories like food, drinks, decorations and entertainment.

A good rule of thumb is to splurge on items that will enhance the overall experience. These are typically food and drinks for adult parties — hungry guests aren’t happy guests, after all — but the specifics largely depend on the occasion. Comfortable seating, for example, is more important for an outdoor movie night than, say, a kid’s party. If you host gatherings frequently, it may be smart to invest in items you can reuse year after year, such as durable outdoor furniture or a reliable grill.

On the other hand, save on decorations and non-essentials. Get creative with decor, whether it’s repurposing items you already have at home, seasonal trinkets you’ve tucked away in a storage unit or DIY creations. Dollar stores and thrift shops can also be treasure troves for inexpensive decor.

3. Create a Guest List

Before you invite any guests, consider the space available in your outdoor area to ensure everyone will be comfortable. Since it’s very likely that some invitees won’t be able to attend, feel free to invite slightly more people than your target attendance. That said, it’s better to have a cozy, enjoyable atmosphere than an overly packed space. Be sure to send invitations well in advance using a paperless online tool like Partiful or Evite, and provide all the necessary details like date, time, location and RSVP instructions.

4. Clear Your Outdoor Space

Before you can transform your backyard, patio or balcony into the perfect party, you might need to clear out some clutter. The last thing you want is guests tripping over garden tools or unused furniture. Moving items into short-term self storage can be a convenient way to make room for entertaining. Start by taking a good look at your outdoor space. Identify items that are not essential for your gathering, such as bulky garden equipment, seasonal decorations or extra furniture. Make a list of everything you plan on moving into storage. Then, determine what size of storage unit you need, pack everything into sturdy, labeled boxes and place them in storage well in advance of your gathering.

5. Set the Stage With Comfortable Seating

Comfortable seating is key to a successful outdoor party. Start by assessing your space and figuring out the best layout for seating arrangements. Mix and match different types of seating — such as lounge chairs, benches and outdoor sofas — to create an inviting atmosphere. Don’t forget to add cushions and throws for a stylish pop of color. If you’re short on seating, get creative! You can use ottomans, picnic blankets, step stools and even sturdy side tables as makeshift chairs for your guests. Feel free to ask neighbors and friends as well if they have any chairs you can borrow.

6. Create Ambiance With Lighting

If you’re hosting an event that takes place after the sun sets, you can create a warm and soft ambiance by using a combination of string lights, lanterns and candles. Solar-powered garden lights are an eco-friendly option that requires minimal effort. For a more dramatic effect, consider fairy lights or LED candles in mason jars. Place lights thoughtfully to highlight key areas, such as the dining table, pathways and seating areas, for everybody’s safety.

7. Keep Bugs at Bay

Nothing can ruin an outdoor gathering faster than mosquitos and other insects. To keep them at bay, start by placing citronella candles or torches around your space (citronella is a natural mosquito repellent). Since mosquitos are weak fliers, you can also set up fans — the breeze they generate will be enough to help keep any bugs away. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even provide guests with a natural bug spray or towelettes. Additionally, consider using insect-repellent plants like lavender, marigold or basil in your garden, and keep food covered when not in use to avoid attracting bugs.

8. Keep Everyone Cool

For hot summer days, you’ll want to make sure your guests stay cool and comfortable. Start by providing plenty of shaded areas with umbrellas, canopies or pop-up tents. Set up fans or keep extra portable misters on hand to create a refreshing breeze. For a more luxurious touch, consider offering handheld fans or chilled towels. Encourage guests to dress in lightweight, breathable clothing and, if possible, time your event for the cooler parts of the day (i.e., late afternoon or early evening).

9. Curate a Delicious Menu

A great menu is the highlight of any outdoor party. Focus on a mix of grilled favorites, fresh salads and seasonal fruits to keep things light and refreshing. It’s always a considerate idea to offer some vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, but if you want to play it safe, ask your guests to send you any dietary restrictions and allergies just to be sure. If you’re hosting a sit-down party, plan the night around seasonal produce at the farmers market and lay a printed copy of the menu on each plate that your guests can take home with them as a souvenir. For more social events, opt for finger foods and bite-sized snacks, which are perfect for mingling.

10. Provide Refreshing Beverages

Keeping your guests hydrated is essential, especially in the summer heat. Set up a self-serve beverage station with a variety of options like iced water, lemonade, iced tea and a selection of beers, wines and cocktails. For a fun twist, make a big batch of punch or sangria. Offer non-alcoholic options for those who prefer them, and consider making a signature mocktail. To keep everything cold, use big coolers or ice buckets (you can DIY your own pallet ice box if you’re feeling crafty), and replenish supplies regularly. Using fresh seasonal fruit garnishes or herbs can be a simple but sophisticated way to elevate the presentation and flavor profile of your drinks. 

 

Tip: It’s always a good idea to overdo it on the ice. You’ll need more than you think to keep beverages, perishable foods (like cheese and dairy-based dips) and other items cool, especially if your party runs all afternoon in the sun.

11. Plan Entertainment and Activities

Depending on the occasion, consider lawn games like cornhole, badminton and giant Jenga, which are great for all ages. If you have a pool, make sure you have plenty of floats and pool games available. If you have an outdoor screen and a high-quality projector, throw on a movie once it gets dark. Don’t forget to set the mood with a summer playlist and some portable outdoor speakers. If you have a budget to spare, you can set up a DIY photo booth with props related to your theme.

12. Prepare for the Weather

Summer weather can be unpredictable, so it’s smart to have a backup plan in case things go awry. Have a a tent, canopy or plenty of wide patio umbrellas in case it starts to rain. For sunny days, ensure there’s lots of shade to protect guests from the sun (keep sunscreen on hand, especially if it’s a gathering with kids).

13. Decorate Thoughtfully

Spruce up your space with festive, intentionally chosen decor items, whether it’s colorful tablecloths, fresh flowers or themed centerpieces. DIY decorations, like homemade centerpieces or hand-painted signs, can add a personal touch and are an affordable alternative to expensive decor. Don’t forget to see what you already have on hand or in storage to make sure you don’t spend unnecessarily on decor, and opt for reusable items whenever you get the chance.

14. Make Clean-Up Easy

To keep clean-up easy and minimize stress, it’s a good idea to use disposable or biodegradable plates, cups and utensils. Set up clearly marked recycling and trash bins close by, and keep extra trash bags, paper towels and cleaning supplies handy for quick touch-ups in case of spills or accidents during the event. At the end of the night, enlist a few friends or family members to help with tidying up. If your budget allows, don’t shy away from hiring a cleaning service — they can make the process so much easier, especially if you’re hosting a large gathering.

By following these tips, you'll be well on your way to hosting a memorable and enjoyable outdoor summer gathering at home. For more tips on making the most of your outdoor space, head to the SmartStop blog. Happy hosting!

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