Summer is the best time of year for casual, impromptu get-togethers in the backyard. What do you do if you’re the host and people are coming over in a few hours? Use some of these tips for quick and easy alfresco dining.


Clean Only As Needed

One of the many fantastic things about dining out of doors is guests don’t expect everything to be spotless; as long as the backyard/patio is neat looking and you dust where people will sit or eat, you’re good to go. Sweep the patio so it is free of dust and leaves.

If you only have time to clean one room in the house, make it the bathroom – it’s the only place guests will be alone and therefore more likely to look around and notice dirt or a mess.

Set the Mood

Create a quick, seasonal tablescape by picking flowers or produce from your yard or the neighborhood. A few suggestions:

  • Gather flowers or shrubs that grow in abundance: bougainvillea, eucalyptus, ferns or other greenery from bushes or trees
  • Display single-stem flowers in individual jars or small vases – don’t worry if they match!
  • Pile a group of citrus – lemons, limes or oranges – in clear glass or white bowls
  • Place found items down the center of the table in place of a runner: driftwood and shells or pinecones and leaves are great combinations


Ditch bright floodlights for softer lighting: if you have string lights or lanterns already hung, now is the time to use them, and add candles for additional lighting if needed.  To enjoy candles even on a breezy night, drop tea lights or votive candles into clear jars, or make candles your centerpiece by placing many inside a large hurricane.


If you live in a place prone to summer bugs, consider placing citronella candles or incense sticks around the perimeter of the yard so the smoke and fragrance will always waft toward you and keep the pests away.

And don’t forget the music: bring some speakers outdoors and hook up to your phone. Apps like Pandora and Songza let you choose music based on artists, songs or even your mood, while Spotify makes it easy for you to create a playlist in a snap.

If you have a portable record player, bring it outside along with a selection of albums, then encourage guests to play DJ. The sort length of albums ensures a constantly changing playlist.

Keep Seating Casual and Comfortable

If you anticipate more guests than can fit around your backyard table (or if you don’t have a backyard table), set up a few different seating vignettes so guests can move around and visit with different groups. Set up a low table and colorful plastic chairs by the pool so guests can enjoy their meals by the water, or spread out a blanket or rugs on the grass and pile on the pillows for a comfy picnic area.

Encourage guests to roam – and make space around the table – by setting up a drink station or two using our galvanized beverage tubs nearby in the yard. Don’t forget to set out any tools guests might need to serve themselves: cups, straws, a corkscrew or bottle opener and a towel to wipe away condensation.


Lastly, keep a basket of blankets on hand for guests who get chilly as the sun goes down.

Go Light and Easy for Food and Drinks

To quickly chill drinks before guests arrive, place wine or other bottles in a bucket; add a layer or ice, followed by a layer of salt (coarse or table), repeating until you reach the top of the bucket. Fill the bucket with cold water to just below the ice line, and drinks should chill in less than 10 minutes.

If you’re making a large batch drink, try this punchbowl ice bath to keep the drink cold without watering it down.

A quick and easy spritzer you can make as guests arrive? Fill a glass halfway with pear or peach nectar (we recommend Kern’s) and top it off with prosecco.

Serve simple appetizers, for example:

  • Cheese and crackers with meats and pickled veggies
  • Heirloom tomato salad
  • Watermelon and cucumber salad with feta and mint
  • Raw veggies with dip
  • Tortilla chips and salsa

Watermelon Salad

Options for the main course:

  • Grilled fish, grilled steaks, grilled veggies – you get the point, anything grilled!
  • A make-your-own taco bar: tortillas, cooked meat, beans, rice, salsa, guacamole, sour cheese, onions, cilantro, limes and fresh veggies
  • A big bowl of angel hair pasta with olive oil, parmesan cheese and grilled or sautéed seasonal vegetables

If you have at least eight hours to prep, try a summer slow cooker recipe so all you have to do is serve it up once guests are ready to eat.

For a quick visual upgrade, squeeze condiments and dressings out of their bottles into ramekins or small bowls; this small change makes a big difference.

When it comes to dessert, keep it simple, simple, simple:

  • Fresh berries with or without whipped cream
  • Wine glasses of champagne with fruit popsicles
  • Set up a DIY sundae station with all the fixings: chocolate sauce, sprinkles, shredded coconut and more, just like when you were a kid

Popsicles Champagne

Have you had to prepare for a dinner party on the fly? What tips would you add to this list?

Happy summer entertaining!


Images via Sunset, Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart, The Entertaining House, Steve Snodgrass, and Fabtastic Eats.