Bring your friends together for a low-stress, high-impact event.

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The weeks between the casual afternoons of summer and relentless perfectionism of the holidays are ideal for hosting creative, relaxed autumn parties: Think wooden tables with mismatched china, soft throw blankets and velvet runners, candlelit tables, soup served in mini pumpkins, and low-key themes focused on food, family, and friends. "You don't have to spend a ton of money. I think the best ways to set the cozy mood are through lighting, with bistro lights or a ton of candlelight, and texture," says event planner Julie Savage Parekh, the founder of Strawberry Milk Events. "The goal is for it to feel cozy and effortlessly elegant—understated, but thoughtful." Ahead, a few fall party themes to work into your entertaining schedule.

Host a harvest potluck.

Make the most of the farmers' market's last few warm-weather weekends by hosting a harvest-themed potluck, suggests Parekh. Ask guests to sign up to bring dishes for different courses based around autumn's best ingredients—squash, fig, pumpkin, apple, pear, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, and sweet potatoes. "Then you have an array, but it's all very cohesive, because it's all fall-flavored and fall-inspired," she says. "You end up with a mix of sweet and savory, as well."

Set up a wine tasting.

If a potluck isn't quite your style, hire a caterer to provide autumn-themed fare, and add thoughtfully-paired wines and luxe styling for a "Vino and Velvet" theme, says Parekh. "If you want something more effortless and casual, everyone brings their favorite bottle of wine—some reds, whites, bubbles. But if you want to level it up a notch, have someone come in and do a wine tasting as part of the event." Accent a rustic wooden table with luxe elements—napkins, table runner, velvet paper menu cards—and encourage your guests to wear crushed velvet accessories or outfits. "Think of rich textures and colors that feel like fall," says Parekh. "It's about layering and texture. It doesn't have to match, it doesn't have to be super expensive—it's more about setting the mood."

Coordinate a cocktail class.

Whether you want to recreate your favorite bar's pumpkin martini or perfect your hot toddy skills before the cold weather hits, a cocktail class is a fun, hands-on activity for a small group. Hire a professional to coach your guests through mixing, shaking, and serving custom creations or classic recipes—or put a DIY spin on it by printing your own recipes, stocking the ingredients, and working together to make (and test) the most tempting ones.

fall brunch table in the backyard with pumpkin and yellow decor.
Credit: Getty Images

Build a backyard county fair.

Skip the crowds at your local fall festival in favor of an at-home version that includes all the best parts: Bobbing for apples, pumpkin decorating, a pie-eating contest, relay races, and a ring toss. Set up buffets for bespoke sweets—dip and cover your own caramel apples, customize a sweet or salty popcorn mix, or elevate your s'mores bar with flavored marshmallows and different types of chocolate; use gingham tablecloths and hay bales for décor.

Get your hands dirty.

Bring out your inner creativity with autumn projects you can work on as a group (or at individual tables): Roll out donuts and top them with creative flavor combinations (Pro tip: leave the frying up to just one person, though); gather the materials to arrange jewel-toned florals into holiday-ready centerpieces; or have your guests try their hand at making individual pies in flavors with a modern twist (Parekh likes apple caramel, bourbon pecan, and fig). Afterward, share an easy al fresco dinner: Invite everyone to bring a batch of their favorite homemade soup, and serve them with fresh bread, autumn beers, and paired wines.

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