Hosting a dinner party indoors is one thing. But when you take the fun outside, it’s a whole other ballgame. Take it from me as someone who loves hosting guests for special occasions, whether it’s family for our annual Christmas Eve get-together or friends for a summer reunion BBQ every year. Over the past 6+ years hosting in our new home, I have learned a thing or two about what to do when hosting an outdoor dinner party. And every year, I learn something new.
There are the obvious things to remember, like making sure you have a planned menu complete with enough drinks to accommodate everyone’s tastes, plus lots of activities, especially if kids are involved. But here are some additional things worth taking into consideration to make your outdoor party the talk of the neighbourhood.
1.Consider getting multiple outdoor cooking surfaces
Not everyone has the room in their backyard to accommodate multiple barbecues, but if you want to host a large group, it’s important to have a cooking surface that’s big enough to make food for everyone. There are ways around this, of course. Cook for the kids first and/or have seats set up close to the barbecue so the cook can chat with friends while continually flipping sets of burgers. With larger groups, choose food that cooks faster and consistently, like burgers and sausages. It’s an ambitious idea to serve steaks to a party of 20 people, especially when grandma might want hers well done while your cousin only eats medium-rare.
Since getting a smoker last year, we have used it in addition to our barbecue more than we could ever have imagined. With large groups, it’s great for smoking a big ham, brisket, or turkey.
If you already have both, great. Make use of them! Find a big cut of meat or something that you can leave to smoke for hours while using the barbecue to grill vegetables, burgers and hot dogs for the kids, corn on the cob, and other accompanying side dishes. Our barbecue has a small separate grill on the side, which makes it great for grilling peppers and onions in a pan at the same time without having to run inside to use the stove. A portable barbecue is not a bad investment as a secondary cooking surface since you can also pack it up to bring with you on camping trips, making it your travel barbecue, too.
2.Have outdoor dinner party fun with cocktails
Go one step beyond just having an outdoor pitcher for ice cold homemade lemonade and reusable non-breakable cups and cutlery. Consider a cordless blender that you can keep outside for guests to mix their own special drink concoctions. Include a cooler of ice for scooping, several cups, fresh fruit, juice, and spirits, and let everyone make their own delicious frozen cocktails or mocktails.
A tip to ensure that cups don’t get mixed up: keep washable markers handy so everyone can write their name on the outside of the cup, or use colour-coded stickers.
3.Have a comfortable seating area
Comfortable seating is a must when you’re entertaining outdoors, whether it’s beautiful patio furniture with cushions or a table and chairs. Whatever the seating, remember that if guests will be eating outside, it needs to be upright.
Loungers are great for relaxing by the pool but not so comfortable with a plate of food in your hand during an outdoor dinner party. It’s handy to have a small patio table or two littered throughout the backyard as well, where guests can rest their drinks or plates when they are having an animated conversation or need to run to the powder room.
Hosts sometimes forget that comfort isn’t just about a nice place to sit but also about things like shade. If the sun is beaming down during your outdoor dinner party, it would be wise to have a patio umbrella for at least a small shaded area, particularly where food is going to be served. There are ones that fit right in the middle of a table if you have a small group dining outdoors. For larger gatherings where people will be eating all over, I love offset crank umbrellas that you can crank open when needed, then collapse when you don’t. Ones that are on wheels make it simple to move around so you can follow the sun or where the guests are going.
4.Music is essential for an outdoor dinner party
Music isn’t just a nice-to-have at an outdoor party: it’s a must. And the last thing you want to do is bring your indoor home speaker outside to blast tunes. Even if you don’t get unexpectedly hit with some rain, the extreme humidity or heat can damage audio equipment that isn’t designed for outdoor use if it’s left outside for too long. Plus, you limit audio to just one section of the space.
Instead, consider outdoor speakers you can leave outside permanently, and enjoy both during an outdoor dinner party and your own family time outside. We have rock speakers throughout our backyard so whether you’re on the deck where there’s a mounted outdoor speaker or running along the grass towards the swing set, the music never stops or gets quieter. There are also larger wireless party speakers designed for outdoor use that you won’t necessarily want to keep outside permanently but can bring out whenever there’s a gathering for booming sound to fill the space.
On a budget? No worries! Invest in rugged and waterproof portable Bluetooth speakers that can be daisy-chained together, meaning you can connect them wirelessly to a single source and play music from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone seamlessly through all of them. If you go this route, choose speakers with favourable battery life and don’t forget to recharge them all ahead of time.
What should you play? Cater your music to your guests. We either make curated playlists with tunes that will appear to guests who are kids all the way up to Baby Boomers, or use an Internet radio station. If you’re using a streaming service, make sure to filter out explicit lyrics. There’s nothing worse than having people over only to have a song come on with curse words that shock the little ones! Alternatively, there are great Internet radio stations worth checking out.
Consider also making music selection part of the charm of the party. Have guests connect their phones to the speakers and choose songs, or hand everyone a piece of paper when they arrive where they can write down five songs they want to hear, then add them to the playlist on the fly. It’s like giving your guests their own 21st century jukebox!
5.Keep the bugs at bay
While bugs are a natural part of the great outdoors, there are ways you can keep them at bay during your outdoor dinner party. I usually spray around the upper deck an hour or so before guests arrive. While the spray won’t keep flies and bees away the entire time, it will help reduce the pesky critters.
The real issue is with mosquitos at night for those party goers who tend to stay late. Invest in a bug zapper, citronella candles, or other lamps and lanterns designed to fend off the biters. Have an ample supply of bug spray as well in case guests need it.
I invested in food covers as well, which fit over dishes to keep the bugs out while food is being served.
6.Invest in late-night warmth for your outdoor dinner party
Since some cities and neighbourhoods do not permit burning a wood fire in your backyard, there are great propane fire pits and fire tables you can invest in for outdoor heating. They won’t break any laws and still provide ample warmth, not to mention light, when you want to relax outside after the sun goes down.
A patio heater can also come in handy, placed outside to provide a bit of heat for those who are feeling chilly at night.
Enjoy the outdoor dinner party!
The beauty about summers in Canada, and even sometimes the other three seasons, too, is that you can expand your home with an entirely new outdoor living space that is primed for entertaining. Even just a small backyard or back deck will do for hosting a few friends, family members, or neighbours for an outdoor dinner party. With the right menu, ambiance, and comfort considerations in mind, it will be a success every time.
Check out plenty of outdoor living gear to help you get prepped for your next outdoor party at Best Buy Online.