Summer — it’s about going outside and entertaining.

First, your house stays nice and clean while all the fun (and red wine spills) happens outdoors.

Second, you stay cool in the fresh air instead of sweltering in the kitchen with the stove and oven cranked up to high. There’s also often a lot less cleanup, thanks to vinyl tablecloths, paper plates, and dinner cooking on the grill.

Finally, you can create the kind of magical fairy garden soirée—with glowing lanterns, draped twinkle lights, flickering torches, and decked out trees among the flowers and shrubs as the sun goes down and the stars come out—that you just can’t get inside.

So, savor the long, balmy nights with family and friends and host the most incredible, picture-perfect patio party possible. Here’s how:

1. Set the mood

First ask yourself what kind of vibe you want to create — playful, romantic, festive, magical — then brainstorm which elements will conjure that ambiance. Candles and well-placed outdoor lighting touches will make the patio feel alluring, whereas bright-colored accents like red-and-orange streamers, magenta Gerbera daisies, and fruity cocktails set an upbeat party tone. A one-color theme, such as white or silver, use the color theme throughout the flower arrangements, table coverings, and accents, suggests upscale elegance.

2. Decorate to the max

Let your imagination run wild! This will help to inspire new ideas, flip through lifestyle magazines or Pinterest boards to gather new ideas, then add your own personal flair. Great building blocks are:


Placemats and napkins

Cutlery and glassware


Fragrant herb or ornamental plant arrangements

Water features and garlands

Chair covers

Cocktail garnishes

Candles and lanterns

Balloons and banners

Garden ornaments and vases

Fire pit

Cozy conversation area with outdoor sofas and chairs

Just remember: a little decoration goes a long way. You’re aiming for atmosphere, not clutter.

3. Add music

Music is obviously huge when it comes to setting the mood. So, match your listening entertainment to the theme, and make sure your stereo equipment is all setup and working properly before party time. If you’re serving Mexican, put on some mariachi or Tejano tunes. Sites like Spotify have already put together great party playlists by theme for you, so take advantage.

4. Share incredible food

Nothing makes an evening more fabulous and memorable than connecting over the delicious, inspired, and artful fare. Build a menu using in-season, fresh, colorful ingredients from your area for the best results. Shop at the farmers’ market, if you can, and let the harvest influence your menu. Choose something light, versus greasy or heavy dishes, and go for simple versus complex.

Try flavorful Roasted Potato Appetizer with Green Goddess Dip, a brightly hued veggie starter, and Food & Wine-worthy Clementine Fennel Potatoes, spiked with thyme and ouzo—a handsome fish or chicken side that you can pass around on a pretty platter. Serve Crispy Salt & Vinegar Potato Wedges for casual get-togethers, a healthy French fry alternative perfect with burgers, or Thai Roasted Potato Kale Salad, a zesty, nutty, lighter version of the traditional summer dining staple.

5. Select a format

A sit-down dinner is more formal and intimate, whereas buffet-style encourages socializing. Ditto for place nametags or not. Potlucks are more relaxed in tone, therefore you can mix it up dish-wise and put a spotlight on your guests’ cooking talents, though sometimes you can end up with six entrées and no side dishes. Match your serving format to the type of gathering you want it to be. And if there’s going to be dancing après dinner, clear out a small flat area that’ll encourage folks to get up, and get down.

6. Plan an activity

If you like, offer something interesting for your guests to do — croquet or badminton or Jenga, perhaps, this is an especially good icebreaker if your guests don’t know each other well. Or what about a beer-tasting competition where competitors jot down tasting notes and put their brewing knowledge to the test? Whatever it is, make it fun and catered to your crowd.