20 Outdoor Entertaining Tips

In the West, we can hike in January, picnic in March, and even celebrate Thanksgiving--at least partly--outdoors. Here are our ideas for year-round entertaining outside.

Outdoor entertaining: Early-evening cocktails
Even if it's too brisk for an entire open-air dinner, you can still start the party alfresco.

1. Quick spritzer: Instead of the expected cranberry, surprise your guests with pear: Fill a glass halfway with pear nectar (we like Kern's) and top it with your favorite prosecco.

2. Easy eats: Make your own toasted herbed almonds: Combine 2 cups raw almonds, 2 tbsp. sea salt, 1 tbsp. finely minced rosemary, and 2 tsp. olive oil. Roast on a sheet pan for 10 to 12 minutes at 350°.

Mobile drink station
3. Hands-free hosting: Set up an aperitif and appetizer cart with pour-your-own cocktails and grabbable nibbles.

4. Creative cooler: Keep the bubbly on ice in a garden pot.
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Make your own drink tags
5. DIY drink IDs:
With a pencil, trace the base of each cocktail glass onto heavy paper stock (a good use for old calendar pages or catalog covers). Next, use a dime to trace a circle within your circle, then cut around both and snip across one side of the "doughnut." Write a guest's name on each.

Bring the music outside
6. Interactive ambience:
Set up a record player and a selection of albums-ask guests to bring their favorites and encourage all to play DJ. An iPod boom box works too.
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Feast outdoors
If your climate is temperate enough, go ahead-move the dinner table outside.

7. Garden centerpiece: Keep it low and give the gourds a rest. Make a casual garland with clippings from your own yard-ours was inspired by one on the blog Oh Happy Day.

8. Versatile furniture: Mix indoor dining chairs with outdoor ones as the length of your guest list grows. We used a table with wheels to make it even easier to bring the party outside.

Keep guests comfortable
9. Just in case:
Draped throws on the backs of dining chairs offer warmth-as-needed for guests-and another punch of color.
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A canopy provides shade
10. In the frame:
With a canopy, any outdoor area can feel like an outdoor room. Here, a retractable sailcloth awning floats overhead like clouds.

Setting the table
11. Crisp palette:
Who says Thanksgiving decor has to be dictated by the colors of turkey feathers? Try hues inspired by winter citrus and the blues of the Pacific.

12. Place settings: Mark each table setting with the guest's initials. These vintage letters do double-duty as napkin weights and party favors.

13. Everything is illuminated: Tealights in jam jars keep each table setting visible as the sun goes down.

14. Home on the range: The genius of dining in your own backyard is that your kitchen is just a skip away. Serve food buffet-style indoors-it can stay warm on the stovetop.
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End the night outdoors
Wrap things up with round-the-campfire coziness under the stars.

15. Bring in the light: Go beyond the ho-hum twinkle of traditional Christmas tree strands. We love these colorful porcelain shades, which shed a soft glow, like mini pendant lamps.

16. Create the space: Turn a backyard corner into a cozy nook with a colorful rug to define the area.

17. Warm it up: Cluster eco-friendly mini fire bowls for a little heat without all the smoke.

18. Inside out: Bring out your favorite cushions or blankets, or buy a few inexpensive ones that you can leave outside.

Warm up with a drink
19. And that nightcap?
Brew some dark hot chocolate and serve it on a tray with add-your-own nut liqueurs and gourmet marshmallows. Our favorite combo: E. Guittard Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate ($9) with Nocino della Cristina walnut liqueur (about $30).
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Take Thanksgiving further
20. Stretch your outdoor dining adventure:
Try taking the celebration to the shore. To see how, click on Thanksgiving on the Beach.

>12 outdoor party themes
>7 ways to upgrade your yard for entertaining
>8 great grill parties