Open Air Affair

Ready to entertain … alfresco? Contributing stylist and Creative Culinary Group owner Kara Mickelson offers suggestions for the perfect outdoor party.


1: Prepare the Space


  • Mentally walk through the event in your mind as if you were a guest.
  • Wash outdoor furniture and touch up with paint, polish or wood oil at least a week before the event. Turn off sprinklers the night before and set up guest tables. Wipe down furniture the day of the party.
  • Create any necessary directional signs pointing out, for example, a backyard entrance or restrooms.
  • Eliminate tripping hazards such as garden hoses, uneven areas of grass, gopher holes, rocks or planter beds in high-traffic areas. Add lighting where needed.
  • Use hearty floral arrangements that will hold up under the summer heat.
  • Ward off pests by covering trash cans, topping drinks with coasters and investing in plate covers or screens.
  • Place fans and citronella candles around the perimeter of gathering spots and use pest-resistant plants on guest tables.
  • Check weather reports for wind gusts and sudden temperature changes and prepare accordingly. Provide umbrellas for shade if needed.
  • Always have an inclement weather backup plan.






2: Set the Mood


  • Provide live entertainment or make and put on your favorite playlist. Keep volume at conversation-friendly levels.
  • Add decorative and functional lighting for evening events.
  • Create comfortable seating around the party space.
  • Set up “help-yourself” stations for self-serve items like beverages, extra utensils, glassware, napkins, paper towels, etc. Add a basket with items like bug spray, sunscreen, a few first aid items, sunglasses, hats, flip-flops, blankets/wraps and towels.
  • Add candles. Keep in mind that battery-operated ones are safer and won’t blow out. Also, citronella candles minimize bugs but come with a strong fragrance.
  • Skip a full-length table linen if your area is prone to wind and opt for heavy, mat-style runners or placemats.
  • Put together or purchase a few signature mixed drinks for guests to sample with ease, as it will cut down on the need for a full bar.
  • Invest in some outdoor games, such as croquet, badminton, cornhole, lawn bowling or pool toys.







3: Plan the Meal


  • Minimize your shopping stress and have farm-fresh groceries delivered.
  • Par-cook items and finish in the oven or over indirect heat to avoid smoke from the grill and save cooking time during the event.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold and practice basic food safety. Refrigerate perishable food within two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90°).
  • Foods that can be served cold, “room temperature” or hot off the grill are best. Use hardy greens for salads, like cabbage and kale, that won’t wilt. Slaws and chilled cooked vegetables are good options. Add delicate garnishes or micro-greens just before serving.
  • Rent full place settings and glassware or consider elegant disposables for easier cleanup.
  • For family-style service such as food platters on the table to pass, make sure ahead of time that everything fits with all the place settings and any centerpieces.
    Have your serving utensils ready to go with each dish. If needed, add an extra table for larger platters.
  • Keep items covered and temperature-safe until ready to serve.
  • Help your guests with a menu card at each place setting.