Fun Outdoor Alternatives to Summer Dinner Parties
While seated indoor dinner parties create a cozy atmosphere in the winter, warm weather calls for informal al fresco activities that can also work if you're socially distancing—from backyard movie nights and pool parties to picnics and art classes. Ahead, more safe gathering options to consider if you're tired of the traditional sit-around-the-table format.
Learn something new.
Bring in an expert to teach you and your friends a new skill with a hands-on lesson. Set up individual work stations outside and stock each with the materials you need to follow along, then find a local professional who can direct your group in person—or schedule a video class that everyone can follow together. Ask a chef to show your group how to make a meal using seasonal, local ingredients from your nearby farmers' market or enlist a cake decorator to help you create perfectly detailed icing flowers for your next at-home birthday celebration. Get creative by hosting a flower arranging class where each person can work with their own blooms, stems, and foliage, or engage your inner artist with a guided canvas painting session. "Right now, people have time and they want to get together," says Virginia Frischkorn of Bluebird Productions. "I think people need to create more than ever and have an expression and an outlet for their creativity."
Create an outdoor theater.
Expand your weekly movie night into a backyard production by setting up a projector screen (or sheet) to recreate a theater setting on your lawn. Encourage guests to space out their chairs, and offer popcorn in individual red-and-white striped bags, boxes of classic candy, and cozy blankets to prepare for cooler temperatures. Other options: Recreate that concert you missed by swapping your favorite DVD for a concert film, encouraging guests to wear shirts from the artist's previous tours, and serving themed drinks. Or broadcast a live, audience-free baseball game—and tell your friends to wear their home team jerseys and serve individual ice cream sundaes in little plastic batting helmets.
Plan a picnic.
Create a casual alternative to a sit-down dinner party with an outdoor picnic, where you can package individual meals or ask guests to BYO. As the host, says Frischkorn, you can elevate the atmosphere with small touches—personalized cocktail napkins and cups, colorful blankets, camping lanterns, and individual s'mores kits. Allison Bach of luxury party planning company Bach to Basic has also been creating upscale picnics for her clients. "Fresh flowers, pillows, colorful blankets or towels, and cute serving pieces create the perfect table landscape for an Instagram-worthy get together," she says.
Host a pool party.
If you're lucky enough to have a backyard pool, use it as a focal point for a low-key outdoor party, suggests Bach: Add colorful floats, a margarita bar, and a classic playlist for a quintessential summer vibe. Set up lounge chairs spaced for social distancing, decide on a consistent color scheme, and offer prizes for best dive, best cannonball, or best belly flop. With the right attention to detail, even a small group get-together can feel like a special occasion, says Bach: "These [events] can really be elevated to create an experience that feels exceptionally luxurious and like you are not missing out on being able to travel or attend larger events."