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How to plan the ultimate outdoor garden dinner party this summer

Garden dinner parties are one of summer’s highlights. Good food, good drinks and good company, all enjoyed al fresco. What more could you ask for?

Taking your parties outside has multiple benefits, from getting you closer to nature to showing off your creative gardening skills (and keeping inevitable spillages away from your house of course).

And you don’t need tons of space to throw an outdoor dining party to remember. It doesn’t matter whether you have a balcony in the heart of the city, a compact courtyard in the town, or a sprawling lawn in the country. What matters is what you do with the space you have. 

(We’ve all heard of it’s not how big it is, but it’s what you do with it, right? Well, the same applies here…)

We do appreciate however that throwing a garden dinner party can be a daunting prospect – being the host comes with lots of pressure. 

To give you a hand with planning your ideal outdoor summer get together, we’re going to share some tips including deciding on a theme, creating a knock-out cocktail menu, picking entertainment and then some. 

So if your summer bucket list includes being the host of a legendary outdoor dinner party, keep on reading.

Decide on a theme

Firstly, you’ll want to decide on the theme. This will influence all other decisions around your summer outdoor dinner party.

You can be as creative as you like here, or the theme may be decided for you if you’re hosting the party for a particular occasion, such as a friend’s 40th birthday or a loved one’s leaving do.

Summer garden party themes we love include:

  • Bohemian – think earthy tones, foliage, candles and lanterns, tropical – bright, bold and totally tiki
  • Classy picnic – subtle, pretty and the essence of the British summer
  • And outdoor bar – sophisticated and a little bit edgy,  think dark tones, twinkling lights and a bustling bar cart

We recommend using Pinterest to put together a mood board that will steer your garden party vision.

Pick your menu

Now the theme is in the bag, you’ll want to decide on your menu. An outdoor party shouldn’t just be about appearances – the food has got to be top notch.

Your theme will help guide you – for example, an evening version of a classic afternoon tea could be ideal for a picnic theme, or a tropical theme will lend itself to a good ol’ barbecue.

If you’re not hugely confident in your cooking abilities, keep it nice and simple. You don’t need tons of dishes with complicated names, remember that it’s quality over quantity.

Summer lends itself to light, fresh and colourful food, so some barbecued or grilled meat and fish paired with a few flavourful salads is a great option. Or if you rate your cooking skills, go ahead and put together a gourmet menu fit for a Michelin Star restaurant – you could even give your guests the option of a couple of different dishes.

The main thing is to be confident in whatever you’re cooking.

Choose your cocktails

With your menu picked, you can move onto choosing the perfect cocktails to wow your guests and warm their cockles during your outdoor dinner party.

It goes without saying that whisky cocktails are the ultimate choice for any outdoor summer get-together – they’re diverse, delicious and can be as simple or as complicated as you like.

A summery menu pairs well with fruity and fresh whisky cocktails using our collection here at The Glenlivet. 

The Tartan Tiki, our spin on a classic Mai Tai using The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, is ideal for balmy summer nights around the barbecue.

Or make up a pitcher of Punch Fresco, our super summery watermelon whisky cocktail to delight your guests and quench their thirst at your garden dinner party.

Gather your accessories and decorations

This is a pretty big step, and covers all things from tableware and cutlery, to decor and lighting.

Again, your theme will give you lots of inspiration and guidance here – such as plenty of cushions, textures and foliage for a bohemian dinner party theme, or bar stools, a chalkboard cocktail menu and pitchers adorned with fresh fruit for an outdoor bar themed garden party.

You’ll also want to be sure the table is set just right – it is a dining party after all. 

Outdoor dinner party table setting ideas will depend on the menu you pick. If it’s more of an informal affair with plenty of sharing going on, you can opt for mismatched decorative bowls and plates dotted around your table. But if you’re treating your guests to something a little more high-end when it comes to the food, you could keep it classy with matching cutlery, plates and glassware.

Make a killer playlist

If you’re wondering what you need for an outdoor party, purrlease don’t forget good music. 

It’s easy to become preoccupied with the theme and food, but the soundtrack of your summer get-together is incredibly important. 

Music can really have an impact on the whole vibe of your outdoor dinner party and be the difference between your guests getting in the right mood, and being a little slow to warm up.

Leave enough time to make a killer summer party playlist that will set the right tone. You’re never going to please everyone, but you could throw a few of your friend’s favourites in there too, or songs that hold memories for you all.

Organise simple entertainment

The last step to organising a first-rate outdoor dinner party is providing some entertainment.

While your guests will no doubt be entertained by your theme, food, cocktails, music and good company, it doesn’t hurt to introduce a little activity to shake up the evening and break the ice.

Garden dinner party entertainment ideas include outdoor games such as croquet or boules, or perhaps even limbo and beer pong if you’re going for a more casual vibe. 

Or you could invite your guests to try out some whisky cocktail making for themselves, or even involve them in the food prep with a build your own burger or salad bar situation.

You’re looking for something low-key that slots into your theme and night seamlessly.

Enjoy your outdoor dinner party

Now you know the steps to throwing a top class garden dining party, all that’s left to say is have a great time!

Remember that the host needs to have fun too, so be sure to prepare well so you can relax during the night and reap the benefits of your hosting skills, along with your friends.