Who's ready to party?

August 16, 2022

Outdoor shindigs present more opportunities for hosting gaffes than indoor parties. Here are the party bloopers and event wreckers people make most often – from ill-timed sprinklers to elemental blunders – and what to do instead. When entertaining outdoors, you can make missteps before you’ve even swept the patio.

Your invitation, for example, shouldn’t omit crucial info. “Is the event on rain or shine? Can guests expect drinks and canapes or a 10-course dinner?” Spell it out.

And the party itself is a minefield of potential gaffes, made more treacherous by most garden’s dearth of shelter. To help you host an al fresco party this season, here are some of the most common mistakes and the wisest ways to avoid them.


Elemental Blunders

The most-mentioned oversight? Failing to consider that guests themselves will barbecue if you don’t provide shade during a daytime party, and will be miserable if sunset ushers in a chill.

Instead: Plan ahead. Borrow all the neighborhood patio umbrellas which can look smart dotted around the garden.

As a chic alternative, use sail shades, and large tarps that you hoist and secure overhead to block rays but let air through. To counter evening cool-offs, heat lamps and blankets can help. Try adding draping the chair backs in scarves or rugs. As the evening got cold, your guests can put them on their shoulders or legs. Afterward, it can be your party gift.

Plan ahead for the elements. Photo:

Generic Outdoor Décor

Don’t use some of the most routine outside-entertaining looks —all to be avoided, such as mason-jar glasses, mini-chalkboard menus with exaggerated calligraphy, galvanised steel buckets as wine chillers, and baskets of ‘Rosé All Day’ paper napkins. Read more, ‘Festive One-Upmanship To Watch Out For- The Entertaining Mistakes To Avoid.’

Instead: Think outside the box and use things like name cards staked to apples.

Layer in cozy elements can also make a party stand out. To add softness underfoot and an unexpected homey note such as inexpensive seagrass matting, which you can pull out whenever you entertain. Investigate snaking tables that curve in an S-shape, building in plenty of opportunities for seated guests to chat with nearby people. Read more, How To Set a Stunning Table.’


A Dim View

For the sort of just-right illumination that spurs conviviality and averts spills, neither a glaring floodlight nor a wan string of Edison bulbs will do. Read more, ‘How To Throw A Sparkling Dinner Party.’

Instead: Aim for warm, soft lighting that emanates from multiple levels.

Make a space even cosier with a perimeter of large lanterns. Tuck small flameless—and windproof—tea lights among low tabletop flower arrangements. Set portable table lamps on the ground – they can work wonders for creating an ambient glow, and for lighting dark pathways for guests unfamiliar with the terrain.

Leaning on a vista will always help a dinner party. Photo:

Limiting Seating

There’s nothing worse than being seated in a spot where you’re cut off from all but one or two people or having shuffle in and out of a long bench while in a dress.

Instead: Limit benches to two seaters, and think beyond dining tables.

Set small benches or chairs from inside in unexpected corners so guests can move about. If you’re lucky, you can exploit your landscaping. A broad set of steps or a low wall with outdoor cushions will encourage smaller, intimate conversation groups. Read more, ‘The Politics Of The Dinner Party Seating Plan.’

Sensory Offenses

Aggressive odours like citronella and trash, as well as neighborhood noise, can be the unforeseen foes of a backyard gathering. Hosts curate a meticulous menu but can overlook partygoers’ four other senses.

Instead: To keep mosquitoes at bay, use natural citrus sprays, not artificial bug repellents, and set refuse receptacles upwind or at a distance.

Mask the sound of traffic or trains with tunes or (admittedly not easy) a water feature. If you’re got a great party playlist, don’t blast music from inside the home – Invest in a good quality portable outdoor speaker.


Party Bloopers

We highly recommend checking your sprinkler system before a big outdoor event…especially if that outdoor event is your wedding reception. Don’t make the mistake of setting charcuterie out too soon! Cheese starts to sweat and jam starts to melt in the heat. Neither looks appetizing and gets the meal off on the wrong foot

Don’t set seating too close to ponds or pools, to avoid over-refreshed guests falling into water features, when getting out of their seat.

Beware of over-refreshed guests making a splash if sitting is too close to a body of water. Photo:

This story is an edited excerpt from the Wall Street Journal.

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