When you want to entertain safely, invite a small group of friends or family over for an elevated outdoor gathering.

By Rebecca Dolgin
Updated February 10, 2021
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As far as entertaining goes, our options are currently limited; with the COVID-19 pandemic still underfoot, it's important to think about the safest ways to socialize. Outdoor gatherings with a limited number of people and enough space for everyone to maintain their distance is far away and your best option. Luckily, there are a number of ways to make getting together outside just as special, elevated, and memorable as an indoor event. What's more, outdoor entertaining is easy when you enlist a few clever strategies. You can even gather outdoors during the off-season with a few simple updates: add a firepit or outdoor heater to your backyard or offer everyone cozy blankets to stay warm. Follow our five tips and the only things you'll have to worry about are keeping your own glass full and avoiding mosquito bites.

drinks opener
Credit: Kate Mathis

Raise the Bar

The ideal bar setup is streamlined, well-stocked, and self-serve. Case in point: A batch of freshly squeezed lemonade will please practically everyone. Ice it down in a four-gallon stainless-steel dispenser that everyone can safely serve themselves. Kids can enjoy it is as is, while adults can punch theirs up with vodka and citrus and herb garnishes, which double as décor.

Supplement with an easy-to-sip aperitif (we like floral Lillet) and sparkling water, and you'll have all the refreshments you need. Don't forget to update your cooler: An oversize resin Champagne bucket has all the appeal of a galvanized-steel one, but will look chic storing supplies in your kitchen, too. As for quantities, here's our rule of thumb: Plan two drinks per guest for the first hour, then one each per hour after that; one gallon equals 16 eight-ounce drinks.

Shop Now: Sansone Stainless Steel Fusti, $125, gourmetitalian.com; March "Oaxacan" glasses, $8 each, marchsf.com; Kinto "BAUM NEU" Canisters, $25, kintostore.com; Tina Frey Resin Champagne Bucket with Leather Handles, $265, shophorne.com; Restoration Hardware "French Beam" Teak Console, $1,995, restorationhardware.com.

table cloth with palm tree design and tan table setting
Credit: KATE MATHIS

Refine Your Table

Dinner outdoors can be just as gracious and comfortable as one you'd host inside. To encourage everyone to sit back and stay awhile, set a table with sturdy ceramic plates and flatware, hefty (but unbreakable) glassware, and colorful linens. To anchor your tablecloth in a breeze, clip a fishing sinker onto each corner (see our how-to). Echo the natural surroundings with wooden accents, floral prints, and statement-making palm leaves, which won't wilt in the heat.

Shop Now: Kerry Cassill Tropical Fiji Table Linen, 67" by 98", $136, shop.kerrycassill.com; Williams-Sonoma Italian Washed-Linen Napkins, $49.95 for four, williams-sonoma.com; Homenature Resin-Handled Cutlery, $195 for a four-piece set, homenature.com; World Market "Muir" Reactive Glaze Dinner Plates, $32 for a four-piece set, worldmarket.com; World Market "Muir" Reactive Glaze Muir Salad Plates, $28 for a four-piece set, worldmarket.com; World Market Driftwood Chargers, $20 for two, worldmarket.com; Terrain Picnic Wineglass, $8, shopterrain.com; Sur La Table Wooden Pinch Bowls, $35 for four, surlatable.com.

bug repellent deflector
Credit: Kate Mathis

Uninvite Pests

Run an electric fan and cover food with mesh domes to keep bugs away. This artistic deflector, inspired by a Mexican street vendor trick, shoos flies naturally: Sunlight reflecting off the water-filled glass bulb confuses and repels them.

Shop Now: De La O Anti-Fly Sphere 3.0, $85, delao.mx.

deganello pardo uma sound lantern
Credit: Kate Mathis

Turn on Tunes

Connect a few Bluetooth speakers via wifi, and anyone with a smartphone can DJ. This sleek model with surround sound emits a warm, campfire-like glow. Queue up a few songs, or get our playlist.

Shop Now: Deganello & Pardo "UMA" Sound Lantern, $479, store.moma.org.

cb2 natural lantern
Credit: Courtesy of Cb2

Light the Way

Once the sun sets, create ambiance (and prevent twisted ankles) with generous, well-placed lighting. Oversize lanterns lit by flameless LED candles can hang or perch along any path that needs brightening. String battery-powered, outdoor-safe bistro lights between trees for extra illumination sans outlets.

Shop Now: CB2 "Kini" Natural-Rattan Lantern, from $50, cb2.com.

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