Outdoor entertaining ideas: 11 ways to have fun in the garden

From picnic brunches to movie nights, there are so many outdoor entertaining ideas to enjoy with friends this summer

outdoor entertaining ideas pizza party with family
(Image credit: John Lewis)

Now's the perfect time to wow your guests with some fresh outdoor entertaining ideas. Whether you’ve got a couple of close friends over for a bite to eat, extended family round for an afternoon catch-up, or a gang of friends coming for the evening, there’s so much you can do outdoors with a bit of imagination. 

In recent years, outdoor areas have become increasingly important, acting as so much more than just a space for plants and flowers. Now, your garden, patio or balcony can work as an extra, versatile room – an extension of your home, complete with comfy furniture and lighting. And this means you can have a lot more fun when entertaining! 

From hosting afternoon tea or a patio pizza party to a murder mystery or movie night on the lawn, here are plenty of ways to make the most of your garden party ideas, whatever the size of your space.

Celebrate summer with these outdoor entertaining ideas 

Sometimes the thought of a full blown garden party is a bit daunting, so these outdoor entertaining ideas are ideal for smaller groups of friends. 

One of the best things about garden party planning, however, is that you can always size up with additional seating and more refreshments should you decide to extend the invitation to a wider group of friends and family. 

1. Host a relaxing outdoor spa day

A hammock on a porch with rattan circular rug

(Image credit: Beaumonde)

Hotel spa breaks can be hugely expensive, so let the spa come to you with a pamper or hot tub party in your own backyard. ‘The easiest way to do this is to hire a therapist to come round for a few hours, giving massages, facials and beauty treatments,’ says events organiser Claire Lee, co-founder of Borrow My Garden. ‘If you and your friends all chip in to cover the cost, it can be surprisingly affordable. Hiring a hot tub for the day can also be a great idea for a decadent spa-style treat.' 

But if your budget is tight, it’s easy to create a DIY spa experience for free. ‘Make your outdoor space look as relaxing and luxurious as possible with comfy cushions, hammocks, airbeds and soft seating; use Bluetooth speakers to play some calming music; then take it in turns to give each other manicures, pedicures, foot baths and shoulder massages,’ suggests Claire. 

‘You could add a wellness element with a bit of yoga, and serve delicious, healthy fruit smoothies to drink – or get one of your other halves to cook a meal for you all and break out the Prosecco instead!’

2. Keep it simple with an intimate fire pit gathering

An outdoor firepit gathering with cozy outdoor rugs

 Black metal bucket fire pit, lanterns and LED TruGlow candles all from Lights4fun

(Image credit: John Lewis)

It’s a myth that you need a huge garden to have one of the best fire pits, and they're ideal for sitting round with friends on slightly chillier evenings or for a winter garden party.

‘There are so many options now, from chimineas for smaller balconies to fire baskets and iron bowls for bigger spaces,’ says garden designer Jo Connolly, from Decorbuddi. ‘Or you can opt for a kadai – a wide, Indian-style fire bowl which also works as a BBQ. You can cook a whole meal on top or just toast marshmallows.’ 

When it comes to what to use in your fire pit, charcoal will burn slow and long, while wood will give more heat but burn faster. ‘Eco logs are a really good option as they burn slowly and are better for the environment,’ says Jo. 

And a word on safety: ‘Whatever size it is, the most important thing is to make sure your fire bowl or pit is sitting on something fireproof. Patio paving is fine, but not wooden decking, in case of any stray sparks. Fire bowls can scorch grass, so if you have to put one on your lawn for the evening, just pop an old paving slab underneath first.’

It's also worth reading up on how to cook on a fire pit properly if you're planning to use it for preparing food for your guests. 

3. Serve up Friday night cocktails outdoors

A pink painted outdoor bar with cocktails in the sunshine

Aaliyaa potting table, 3L Beverage dispenseR, Erne champagne flute all Wayfair

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Get the holiday vibe at home by including some fun drink station ideas in your backyard and ask guests to bring a bottle each for sundowner cocktails. ‘Garden bars are hugely popular and easy to buy ready-made, but it can often be cheaper - and more fun - building your own,’ says Jo Connolly.

You want your outdoor bar to be high enough for people to stand around, and to tidy away easily once everyone’s gone home. You could try upcycling wooden pallets to make a bar on wheels that can be rolled to the side when not in use; or simply add a shelf below a kitchen window. 'Whoever’s being bartender can make the drinks indoors and pass them through the window, like a serving hatch,’ she suggests. 

‘If you’re feeling really creative, you could transform your shed into a cocktail bar, painting it a bright color and adding tropical-style decorations and fairy lights; or fixing a fold-down board to the window area and serve guests their margaritas from there.’ 

For a pool party, set up your bar poolside so that guests don't have to venture too far for refreshments, although make sure you use plastic drinking glasses of course.

4. Go sophisticated with an outdoor dinner party

An outdoor table set in the evening with lights

Set the scene with these outdoor lights from Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

For a summer outdoor dinner party with a difference, take inspiration from the garden and stick to seasonal ingredients for your meal. ‘Make a delicious rustic salad with leaves and herbs drizzled with lemon and honey or an Italian salad with different colored tomatoes; then serve BBQ party food like grilled fresh fish with roasted seasonal vegetables,’ suggests chef and event organiser Cameron Farquharson, from Redlands Coppice

‘For dessert, you can’t beat summer strawberries or raspberries served on meringues made with free range hen’s eggs,’ he adds. Then set the scene with beautiful outdoor table decorating as you would indoors – complete with tablecloth, napkins, and candles for an intimate glow long into the evening. 

5. Host a lively game night in the garden

Group of friends sitting at a wooden table and playing cards outdoors

Keep things simple with a deck of cards or invite guests to bring their favorite board games to try

(Image credit: Ammentorp Photography / Alamy Stock Photo)

Whether it’s an in-depth game of Monopoly or several quick-fire rounds of Go Fish, you’ll find board or card games are a good old-fashioned fun way to spend a warm summer’s evening in the backyard. 

You’ll need some good backyard party lighting for these particular outdoor entertaining ideas, so that guests can see what they’re doing. So string solar-powered festoon lights or string lights overhead and dot battery-operated LED lanterns around the seating area. 

‘Not got a big enough table? Put a large piece of wood or even an old door over a smaller table or box to create a game-playing surface,’ suggests Claire Lee. ‘You can also take garden games off the table and into the garden itself – think Twister, giant Jenga, or giant Connect 4, or use chalk to play hopscotch or noughts and crosses on your patio.’ 

6. Catch up with friends over a casual backyard brunch

A picnic blanket in a garden covered with brunch food

Hearts Knitted Picnic Blanket, Picnic bag, melamine tableware all Sophie Allport

(Image credit: Sophie Allport)

Hot food can be a bit heavy in the summer, so if you’re inviting family or friends round mid-morning, why not have a simple garden picnic brunch outdoors instead? 

‘Brunch is always a casual affair anyhow, so you don’t need formal outdoor dining ideas – simply place a blanket on the lawn or in the shade of a tree and eat there instead,’ says Jo Connolly.

‘Draw from the garden setting and put a vintage floral tablecloth on a wooden crate or stack of wooden pallets to use as a low-level table; decorate it with a vase of wild flowers; scatter round some cushions; then bring out sharing platters of finger food and let everyone help themselves.’

7. Put on an afternoon of garden crafts

A flower press kit for garden crafts

(Image credit: Blue Brontide)

Whether you fancy enjoying some garden activities for kids or trying your hand at something more grown up with friends, the garden is the perfect place to get messy. So spend a fun afternoon doing creative things you’d find difficult to do inside, such as painting, printing or woodwork. 

‘Be inspired by your surroundings and paint plant pots in bright colors to decorate your patio; painting stones or making paper aeroplanes with your children to fly around the garden; printing with leaves; or the good old-fashioned art of picking and pressing flowers,’ suggests crafting expert Emily Dawe, from Oh Hello Maker

‘Marbling and tie-dyeing are other messy makes that work really well outside as you won’t have to worry about staining any furniture and the results will dry quickly in the sun,' she adds. 'It’s easy to get kits cheaply online to get you started.'

8. Have the family over for lunch outdoors

A family garden party with bunting

Cook your dishes on the barbecue rather than in the oven

(Image credit: Johner Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Can’t stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen and into the garden by cooking a family dinner on the barbecue. ‘Stuff a chicken with some lemon and orange pieces and wrap it in foil with a bit of water, a sprig of thyme and some sea salt, making sure it’s well sealed,’ says Cameron Farquharson. 

‘Prick some holes in the foil to allow the smoke to get in, then place it on your best BBQ, put the lid down and leave it to cook for around 90 minutes. You can do the same thing with beef, although leave that for 30 to 40 minutes if you like it quite pink.’ 

You can also cook roast potatoes and root vegetables in a similar way, on a separate grill. ‘I par-boil potatoes first, before shaking them up and popping in some foil with oil, seasoning, garlic and herbs,' says Cameron. 'For carrots or parsnips, add honey, thyme and garlic before sealing them up and sitting them at the back of the grill. It’s great fun to do, and as well as giving all your food a lovely, smoky flavour, BBQing your roast will save on your energy bills too!’

9. Get dressed up for a murder mystery party

Police crime scene tape do not enter

A great outdoor entertaining idea for those friends who enjoy costume parties

(Image credit: PURPLE MARBLES / Alamy Stock Photo)

Was it Professor Green on the patio with the hose? Or Miss Gardener in the shed with the spade? For something a little different, host a whodunnit outdoors. Start with a downloadable themed kit to use as a guide - complete with script, ‘evidence,’ character descriptions to give to your guests beforehand and even a suggested playlist - from a specialist murder mystery site such as Playing With Murder

Then decorate your garden, including lots of atmospheric lighting; and choose fun food and drink to go with your garden party theme (such as martinis shaken, not stirred, for a James Bond party). 

Murder mysteries work best when guests feel involved and fully commit to their roles, so encourage them to arrive dressed up as their allotted characters, to get into the swing of things from the start. 

10. Keep things classy with afternoon tea

A tea party table set up with cake and cut flowers in a vase

Nothing says summer more than a dainty selection of cake and sandwiches, surrounded by summer flowers

(Image credit: Alitex)

Dainty sandwiches, freshly baked scones and pots of Earl Grey. Forget stuffy, fancy hotels – a sunny garden or balcony surrounded by plants and flowers is a fantastic setting for an informal afternoon tea. You don’t need a five-star hotel budget either if you want to throw a garden tea party

‘Go for a rustic, homespun look with upcycled pallet furniture ideas decorated with vases of wild flowers and handmade bunting made from scraps of leftover fabric,’ suggests Cameron. 

‘Then use pretty mismatched vintage plates and teacups from charity shops to serve food and drink on.’ If you really want to wow your guests, top your cakes with edible flowers such as pansies (use those grown from seed rather than from garden centres, which might have been sprayed with chemicals) and have a go at making your own jam for the scones using home-grown strawberries.

11. Host a night at the movies in your backyard

An outdoor movie night with a sheet and projector with cushions and a firepit

Foscot fire pit, Festoon golf ball solar lights, Wimborne low chair, directors chair, cushions, all Garden Trading

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

Why go out to the movies when you can create your own backyard movie night at home? ‘Use an extension lead to get power outside, then hook up a one of the best outdoor projectors to your laptop and some speakers (for better sound), before hanging up a large flat white sheet to use as a screen,’ suggests Claire Lee. 

‘Make guests as comfy as possible with rugs, deckchairs, floor cushions and airbeds, and serve big bowls of popcorn for an authentic cinema experience.’ If you're worried about the weather, set up a stylish bell tent in your garden as a garden shelter idea with a projector, screen, lighting and squishy beanbags. 

How do I make outdoor entertaining easier?

A good outdoor event, no matter how big or small, always starts with a good plan. You want to be outside enjoying yourself with your guests, rather than running indoors all the time, so work out and assemble everything you’ll need beforehand. 

Think about comfort (where will guests sit?), food and drink, decorations, music, and warmth (do you need a fire pit, some additional outdoor heating ideas or some cozy blankets for when the temperature drops?). Finally, if you’re planning to party late, warn the neighbors – or better still, invite them to join you!

A covered seating area set for a garden party with a long table and cushions on benches

Outdoor summer party set up by Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

What do I do if my entertaining plans go wrong?

It’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality but thinking ahead can help. Weather can sometimes be unpredictable, so if the forecast is looking iffy on the day, clear a space so you can move indoors if needed, or consider borrowing a gazebo so that the fun can continue undercover. 

Use plastic, melamine or bamboo tableware instead of glass and china to minimize breakages; and burn citronella candles to keep pesky bugs at bay, keeping a tube of insect bite cream handy just in case!

An putdoor party with friends and family using an ooni pizza oven

(Image credit: John Lewis)

How do I make my outdoor get-together memorable?

It’s easy to get so caught up in trying to do things ‘right’ that you forget the whole point of outdoor entertaining is to have fun. Do something unexpected or surprising, such as playing games, or serving unusual food, and make your guests feel special and involved by asking them to contribute – perhaps by bringing a pudding, inventing a cocktail, or helping create a playlist. 

A game of hoops in a garden played with friends

(Image credit: Future)
Jenny Wood
Freelance writer

Growing up with a botanist father, Jenny had a love of all things green from an early age. Now the proud owner of her own plot, she tries to follow her dad’s advice and grow at least one new, interesting plant each season. She writes about gardens for national newspapers and magazines such as the Daily Mail and Good Homes