Our 30 Fave Entertaining Ideas

Party like a pro any time of the year with our top tips for hosting big or small gatherings with ease.
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July 15, 2015

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Serve a Signature Cocktail

To save time mixing drinks on the fly, whip up a big batch of one signature cocktail before guests arrive. A few recipes to try: Savannah Fizz, Long Island Iced Tea, Mai Tai or Whiskey Buck. Welcome guests with a drink upon arrival then invite them to help themselves to refills with a large punchbowl or pitchers filled with your signature concoction.   

Host a Block Party

Warm spring, summer or fall nights are perfect for gathering friends and neighbors together for a block party. Fire up the grill and ask everyone to bring their favorite side dish or dessert to share. 

Turn an Inexpensive Tub Into an Outdoor Drink Station

A large metal or plastic tub filled with ice-cold soda is a welcome addition to any outdoor get-together. Anchor long wooden dowels in the ice, then add a card stock and ribbon banner to turn the budget-friendly tub into a cute drink station.

Keep Kids Occupied

A designated kids' area ensures any party runs smoother. Cover the table with brown Kraft paper to create a doodle- and spill-proof surface. Stock the table with a ready supply of tasty treats and art supplies so the kids can craft and munch the night away.  

Stock the Bar

Invite guests to help themselves at a well-stocked bar. An assortment of sodas as mixers, spirits — gin, vodka, rum and whiskey — and liqueurs — vermouth, orange liqueur and bitters — will ensure they'll be able to mix up their favorite cocktail.

Or, Try Another Kind of Bar

If cocktails aren't your thing, treat guests to a coffee bar instead. Stocked with mugs, fresh-ground beans and a variety of flavored syrups, they can whip up their favorite cup o joe in a flash. 

Craft DIY Fun for Little Ones

It's no secret that little girls love to play dress up. Indulge their inner diva by throwing a party where girls can be girls: let them come in costume or provide easy-to-make tulle tutus by stitching layers of inexpensive tulle around a length of elastic that's a little smaller than the girls' waists. Colorful hair accessories and a wide ribbon sash completes each girls' transformation.    

Create Budget-Friendly Centerpieces

Assemble an inexpensive focal point for your table with flowers that are season. Pair backyard bloomers, like tulips, camellia and assorted vines with succulents for a lush, low centerpiece.  

Serve an Easy-to-Munch Menu

Hand-held bites, like these mini tacos, are easy for guests to enjoy while mingling. Other two-bite favorites include:  Mini Quiche Florentine, Smoked Gouda and Herb Puffs and Chile-Lime Roasted Cashews.  

Party Under a Pergola

Pergolas are great for filtering sunlight while still giving you the feeling of being outside. If you're lucky enough to have one of these structures in your backyard, position the dining table under it and invite guests to sit a spell.  

Take Storebought Goodies Up a Notch

You don't have to be a pro baker to create desserts that are both delicious and look like a million bucks. Just pick up readymade treats from your favorite bakery then embellish with a few craft-store supplies — like paper straws, twine and card stock pennants.  

Pick a Palette

The same rule of three (main colors, that is) that applies to selecting an indoor color scheme also works when planning an outdoor party. Choose three main colors to create a theme then carry those colors throughout with accessories like napkins, plates, place cards, paper pom-poms, pennants or balloons.

Enjoy an Outdoor Movie Night

Invite friends to join you for an after-dark movie night. Hook up a projector to your laptop, then display a favorite summer flick on a screen or blank wall. Movie buffs of all ages will love a laid-back evening under the stars.

Don't Forget Your Best Friend

Pets are family so include them in your party plans. Invite outgoing pets to the party; alternately, provide a safe, quiet zone for pets that are skittish around strangers, not feeling well or are afraid of loud noises.  

Keep Place Settings Simple

Even a sophisticated dinner party doesn't require a formal place setting with a dizzying array of spoons, forks, glasses and plates. Only set the table with the utensils your guests will need — if the menu is fairly basic without a long succession of courses, a standard spoon and fork will do.  

Let Guests Help With the Prep

As an seasoned host knows — whether you want them there or not — guests always end up gathering in the kitchen. Rather than lamenting the fact that they're underfoot — put them to work. Most guests have taken a turn at hosting themselves and understand how much work it can be so they'll be more than happy to pitch in with the prep.  

Dine Alfresco

Weather permitting, take your party outdoors. Everything — even a simple supper, brunch or midday snack — tastes better when enjoyed in the great outdoors.  

Serve Buffet Style

Buffet service not only frees the host from spending the entire party in the kitchen, it also creates a more casual feel that promotes mingling and conversation. Be sure to provide a variety of options so guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions will be satisfied as well.  

Pre-Party Prep: Chill the Wine

As any oenophile can attest, wine tastes best when served at the correct temperature. As a general rule, serve white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature.

Craft an Easy Banner

A colorful banner adds a festive, fun touch to any indoor or outdoor party. Create your own with our free printable template. Just print the template onto sheets of card stock, cut out, and connect the pennants with metal brads.   

Set Up a To-Go Station

Everyone loves taking home an extra serving of particularly tasty party food to enjoy later. Make it easy for your guests to pack up nibbles to-go by setting out a variety of eco-friendly paper containers in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Satisfy Their Sweet Tooth

Even the most diet-devoted guest finds it hard to pass up a bite or two of something sweet making individual desserts like cupcakes, tartlets, cookies and parfaits a tasty choice.

Let Kids Help With the Decorations

Although you'd never guess it — what looks like a fashion-forward table runner is actually a kids' art project. Learn how to get crafty using your kiddos' fingerprints with our step-by-step instructions.   

Create Conversation Areas

Guests will naturally gather together wherever they find comfortable furniture so — whether you're planning an indoor or outdoor party — group furniture together to create conversation areas. Add plump pillows and warm throws to lend a cozy feel that will encourage guests to linger.

Flower-Free Centerpiece

A beautiful centerpiece is the perfect finishing touch to any dining table — but flowers aren't required. Instead, line the center of the table with pillar candles and something colorful to coordinate with the party palette or theme, like glitter, fresh fruit, foil-wrapped chocolates or seashells. 

Bring the Indoors Out

No flimsy plastic picnic furniture here — set the scene for a spectacular dinner party by bringing your dining table and chairs outside so everyone can sit back and comfortably enjoy their meal.  

Treat Guests to a Dessert Table

Kids of all ages won't be able to turn down a sweet treat from a dessert table this cute. For a pro presentation, pick a theme and carry it through in the color palette or type of sweets offered.  

Add Color With Homegrown Fruit or Veggies

Think outside the florist when pulling together a summer centerpiece for less. Instead of expensive hot-house greenery, clip herbs from your garden. For color, add stems of young tomatoes and finish your arrangement with a single large peony bloom.  

Set Up a Snack Station

Kids and adults alike will enjoy helping themselves to a crunchy-meets-sweet snack mix of their own making. Fill small bowls with assorted nuts, candy, pretzels and popcorn; place them in a tiered serving tray for a pretty presentation and to make it easier for several guests to sample the snacks at once.

Fancy for Free

For an outdoor or garden-themed get-together, add an organic touch to each place setting by topping each plate with a bundle of clipped backyard vines, branches or grasses. The greenery adds a designer look without the designer cost.  

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