Easy Backyard Entertaining Tips

I’ve had some requests for easy backyard entertaining tips, I guess because I mention having friends over a lot. It seems like a lot of people don’t host gatherings as often as they would like because of the work that goes into it, or when they do entertain, they feel like they’re too busy to enjoy their guests.

I get that, but I’ve always had a lot of people around, so I got used to keeping things easy and casual. Here are my 5 best tips.

5 Easy Tips for Stress-Free Outdoor Entertaining

#1. Lower your standards. 

No, seriously. Let go of that notion of a Pinterest-perfect party. No one cares if you have matching plates and cups or clever decorations, or if your house is cluttered or the floor is dirty.

Party Tip: The floor is going to get dirty anyway! I never clean a floor before a party. I clean afterwards.

They also don’t care if you’re still putting food out when they get there, and they don’t even really care if it’s homemade or store bought. That may be how they want to do their parties, but if your friends are going to judge you for putting out a store-bought dessert or having clutter on your counters, you need to find new friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when I’m all ready to go when people get there and everything is set out neatly and the house is clean and tidy. Sometimes I achieve that goal, but it isn’t very often, and I’m okay with that.

#2. Buy your food, don’t make it. 

I used to be that girl who had to make everything from scratch, and I enjoyed it, but as my job got more demanding, it became too much pressure and I sort of lost interest. When I finally started buying my food instead of making it, entertaining got so much easier. That’s when I realized, most people really don’t care. (Are you sensing a theme here? Haha!)

All that to say, if you love to make homemade food, go for it, but don’t avoid entertaining because it’s too much work or stress to make everything from scratch.

Here are some of the things I often serve that everyone seems to love, and they take very little prep on my part.

Snacks & Apps:

  • cheese & meat tray // Ideally, I have three types of cheese (cheddar, brie, and aged gouda are always a safe bet) and one of those Columbus Charcuterie Trios or a Boar’s Head Uncured Genoa Salame Roll.) If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll add some marinated olives, a handful of nuts, and those cute little pickles! I usually put out a bowl of Mary’s Gone Crackers along with it, or I throw some of these Firehook baked crackers right on the cheese plate. When I’m feeling really lazy, I pick up one of these cheese trays at Wegmans. (But I do like to plate it myself.)
  • Boursin (green box only) + Glutino pretzel twists // Even people who aren’t gluten-free love the Glutino pretzels, but you can use any small pretzel twist for this.
  • Lipton french onion dip & corn chips // Just mix a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix with 16 oz. sour cream. We like this best with Fritos Scoops, or potato chips work too. Raw carrots and celery are also good with it.
  • chips & salsa // Trader Joe’s has some of the best jarred salsa options, or I get the “fresh” salsa from the deli area in the grocery store.
  • hummus + tortilla chips // Easy peasy!
  • potato chips // If I’m just having a couple of girlfriends over, sometimes I just put out a bowl of potato chips and a bottle of wine and call it a day!
  • fruit or veggie tray // I just grab one at the grocery store, or of course you can assemble your own.
  • La Terra Fina Spinach Artichoke Dip + Pita Chips from Costco // This combo is always a hit, although I try to avoid Costco at all costs, so I send Paul when I want this.
  • shrimp cocktail round // I also get this at Costco, or sometimes at my grocery store.

My Go-To Meal:

  • burgers & hotdogs // If I serve a meal, burgers and dogs are the easiest, and if you have any vegetarians, you can always buy veggie burgers. We usually buy ground beef and make the burgers, but you can buy the patties already formed at most grocery stores or Costco, and there’s always BUBBA.
  • storebought potato salad and/or coleslaw // When we do burgers and/or hotdogs, I usually serve potato salad along with it.
  • strawberry spinach salad // This is as “homemade” as I get, or you can buy Marie’s Poppy Seed Dressing at the grocery store. This salad adds freshness and color to the burgers/hotdogs + potato salad meal.


#3. Skip the meal; serve apps instead.

A lot of times, we don’t serve a meal at all, and that cuts way down on the prep (and cleanup.) It also enables you to spend more time with your guests.

When I go this route, sometimes I make more of an effort to make a homemade appetizer… or not. It just depends on my mood and the amount of time I have.

If you want some suggestions, we all love this guacamole recipe, this buffalo chicken dip recipe, this 7-layer dip, and this jalapeño popper dip. We also like to make these mini cubano sandwich skewers.

Also, this strawberry pretzel parfait is delicious and easy for summertime poolside gatherings — of course, plastic dessert cups (or wine glasses) are best around the pool.

If we are hosting around the dinner hour and I feel compelled to offer a meal, sometimes we just order pizza. Of course, that can be costly, but most people are willing to chip in a few bucks to help out.

#4. Make it a potluck.

People almost always offer to bring something when you invite them over, so let them! Again, this does mean letting go of a certain amount of control. And invariably, someone comes in and needs to borrow a cutting board and chef’s knife and proceeds to assemble their entire plate on my freshly cleaned counter… but you know what? That is one dish I didn’t have to make, so I call it a win.

#5. Use disposable everything & keep yourself well-stocked.

It’s nice to serve on real plates with real flatware, but it’s a lot more to clean up, so we almost always use paper. (The exception is for holiday gatherings; I do draw a line there.) But in the summertime, out by the pool, it’s always paper. There are also lots of eco-friendly options nowadays, and I’m trying to do more of that.

I keep disposable cups and napkins and plates in a basket in my pantry, and I try to keep myself stocked so I’m not scrambling if I want to have a last minute gathering. I also keep a utensil caddy in my pantry fully stocked at all times.

Outdoor Entertaining Must-Haves

This section may be redundant, but here’s a “checklist” of sorts — things to have, and consumable items to keep in stock so you don’t have to shop for them each time you have an event.

Party Tip: Amazon’s Subscribe & Save is great for keeping consumables in stock, and it saves you 5%.

  • disposable plates, cups & napkins // I try to keep matching or at least coordinating sets, but sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I’m learning to let it go. Target usually has really cute ones in their seasonal section, and I try to remember to stock up at the beginning of summer, but by now it’s whatever I think to grab at the grocery store.
  • disposable utensils // I like this silver cutlery combo because it looks nicer than the clear plastic, and they come with twice as many forks as knives and spoons.
  • melamine serving dishes // So you don’t have to worry about anything getting broken near the pool, and they’re also lightweight for carrying back and forth from the house. I have and love this chip & dip set.
  • melamine serving tray // For transporting dishes and drinks to the deck and back to the kitchen. I have this one.
  • canned drinks // Whatever people like to drink; we keep an assortment of soda and beer, and we buy cans rather than glass bottles because of the pool.
  • beverage coolers // For bigger events, we like to use two — one for beer and any other alcoholic canned drinks, and one for sodas and other non-alcoholic canned drinks. Paul often prints out pictures of each of the drinks in each cooler and tapes them on top so everyone knows their choices. (Sort of brilliant, but also time consuming.)
  • outdoor pitcher // This pitcher has the look of mottled sea glass, but it’s actually made of shatterproof acrylic. I always fill it with ice water and set it outside on my bar cart along with paper cups so it’s easily accessible.
  • insulated stemless wine glasses // To keep your wine cold, of course!
  • acrylic ice buckets // I usually plop a couple of bottles of wine in this, and keep the canned drinks in coolers, but we sometimes put canned drinks in these for smaller gatherings.
  • ingredients for easy apps & dessert // cheeses, sliced salami, Boursin, salsa, hummus, Lipton Onion Soup Mix, sour cream, Fritos, pretzels, tortilla chips, cream puffs, Pepperidge Farms cookies, salted caramels, etc.
  • individual chip bags // I often put these out in a big bowl on the bottom shelf of my bar cart. Even when I have open bowls of chips on the coffee table, I notice that a lot of people (especially kids) like to grab one of these.
  • citronella candles // They make some really pretty ones nowadays.
  • Corn Hole // So much fun. Everyone loves this game.

What would you add to this list?

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35 thoughts on “Easy Backyard Entertaining Tips

  1. Jolynne,
    Great post! Lots of wonderful information and suggestions! I too, have to learn to let go a bit. Thanks again !

  2. Great post! I really like the Daily Finds section and will often purchase your recommendations there. Thank you!

  3. Great post!!
    My brother in law and sister in law turned their noses up to a store bought dessert at Thanksgiving!! I couldn’t believe it!! They always volunteer to bring dessert these days. Problem fixed😆

    1. Sounds like you and I have the same concept for entertaining !! Keep it simple and have fun.. that’s what it’s about 🙂 great post !

  4. Jo-Lynne, I couldn’t agree more with the concept of letting go. I have hosted an large annual gathering for the last 10 years. I would pick a theme, (Mexican, Italian, Western, Hawaiian, etc.), decorate the backyard, house and make the entire meal. Of course everyone loved it but this year I’m ordering from our local pizza store. Aside from pizza they also have make your own pasta with tons of different toppings as well as wings, boneless chicken and dessert brownies.
    I’m not as stressed out and instead being in the kitchen cooking I can enjoy being with my friends and family.

  5. I do like the Daily Finds section and often order from it.
    I used to entertain a lot and went all out. I would like to start entertaining again and I will use more shortcuts.
    We have 11 grandchildren now, and I finally learned NOT to mop the floors before holidays and celebrations. No point in doing that twice. And you’re right, most people won’t notice or care about whether something is homemade or elaborate. Great post!

  6. This is a helpful post and certainly inspires me to hold more gatherings. I just need more friends, lol! What do you do if you host people over and over and they never reciprocate? We do like hosting but even if you make it relaxed and casual, it’s still work. We mostly have family over and several siblings seem to have no desire to return the favor. We don’t sanitize the house but we de-clutter areas where the guests will be and make sure the bathroom is clean, etc. We also vacuum so people don’t have to look at the dog hair, lol. I like to ensure a nice atmosphere for guests like making sure the temperature is at a good setting and there are drinks readily available. I’ve been to other people’s events where that wasn’t the case, so I do try to ensure our place is comfortable.
    By the way, I like the Daily Finds section too.

    1. Some people just don’t like to host, so I try not to take that personally. If they come and you enjoy them, I would just keep inviting them. And yes, I mean, I do declutter, and I keep my house clean. I just mean it doesn’t have to be perfect. 🙂

  7. In my family we usually do potluck, and pick a category, like salad, app, potato side, green side, etc. Works great. And when hosting I keep the mindset that the day will NOT go perfectly– something will get spilled or whatever.

    I do like the Daily Finds.

  8. Anything to add to list? Crazy obvious – I like a covered wastecan that opens by pressing your foot so in case hands are full you’re good to go and bugs stay out. Also I usually have a bowl of koolie cup sleeves to put around cans just to help keep cold a bit longer (plus we get so many from give aways perfect way to use them). Finally I usually have a large container of wet wipes or such to wipe over sticky hands to keep people from having to run in and out of the house.

  9. I love this! And I live it too, as in I have evolved away from making tons of effort for gatherings. I’ve learned that actually gathering with friends and family is priceless. And if it’s easy and fun for me as the host and for my guests, then we will gather often. I second your Wegmans picks!! Those are also my go-tos.

  10. We used to entertain all the time and need to get back to it. I can’t wait to get our deck repaired so we can!

    I love the daily finds as well.

  11. Like you, I made everything from scratch and would often be tired at my own dinner parties. I started buying ready made desserts from a bakery when everyone was going gluten free (thanks to the Wheat Belly) for book club and there was no looking back. I still make most of my appys but buy some too – wings; egg rolls, etc. I decided to not host dinner parties but instead happy hours. It took away a lot of the work and everyone enjoys themselves.
    I don’t use paper plates or plastic cutlery. With a dishwasher clean up is easy enough.

    1. If I buy potato salad, I put it in a nice dish on a bed of lettuce and top with paprika. That way it looks homemade. 😉

  12. Great suggestion! I use a lot of these go-to recipes as well. I also make a fruit salad out of the catering fruit tray @ Chick-fil-A. Whisk honey and lime juice together then toss in the fruit.

  13. Great ideas. Great post. I wish I liked to entertain more. With all the food allergies it really makes it difficult for us. Question about your deck. Did you have it put on? Is it Trec decking type? We are looking to replace our wood deck and wondering how the other cleans up after a Winter. Does mold come off etc? Thanks. We are on the West coast so get rainy Fall/Winters and Springs. Very hard on wood decking.

    1. Just have them bring their own. I’m having friends over to the pool on Wednesday, it is over lunchtime, and they have young kids. I told them to bring a bag lunch and I’ll have drinks.

      The deck is some type of composite, not wood. We had it replaced last winter, using the same foundation. I’d have to ask Paul what it is exactly but the water just beads up. It gets a little mildewy in spots, but that washes off.

  14. What a great post! Thank you for such awesome tips! I do like the Daily Finds section! Honestly, I don’t think you’ve done anything that I haven’t liked. I look forward to your emails every day! Thanks for all you do 🙂

  15. I love that. So many good things you can buy that are just as good as homemade. It’s about enjoying the company.

  16. What a fun post, Jo-Lynne! I love the practical suggestions for easy entertaining. I need to let go of some of my perfectionism (about making everything myself) and just relax and enjoy my company. I just don’t have the time and energy to do all the cooking anymore, lol. It’s all about having fun and making memories with friends and family.

  17. One of my favorite posts you’ve ever done. We also have a pool so your advice was spot on. I discovered that brownie mix a few years back and it’s everyone’s favorite! Easier and better than my made from scratch. Enjoy the rest of the summer and this beautiful weather this weekend!

  18. Thank you for such a practical and informative post. I also enjoyed reading the comments for more tips and tricks!

  19. Terrific info! I need to be better about entertaining. I enjoy it when we do it but the lead up always feels like so much work. My hubby really wishes we would entertain more frequently. Also the best thing I learned from this post is about the eco-conscious disposable plates, etc! I almost always use real dishes, flatware, etc, because I can’t stand the thought of throwing out all that plastic. This is the perfect solution!

  20. Loved this! Thank you.
    I’ve followed you for years and think your blog is truly the best out there. Thank you!
    Just wanted to chime in. We’ve had a pool for 26 years. Our kids always said: why don’t we have a little fridge out here? We thought-no way! That’s silly.
    We got one this year and Omg. Game changer! We leave “pool”’condiments (ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, etc) beer, soft drinks, pickles, and other stuff out there and it makes things so unbelievably easy!

  21. Jolynne,

    I love this post! Thank you. I am the person that always tries to be “perfect” and then I don’t want to host because it is too much work. My husband, on the other hand, would entertain every weekend, if I would agree to it. Your tips are spot on. Friends just want to visit and are not judging (or shouldn’t be) my food, dishes, floors, etc. Have a great day and thank you again.

  22. Thank you for the ideas, encouragement, and resources, Jolynne. I have wondered if I’m slacking as I get older, but maybe we’re just getting smarter!

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