This article contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made.

Summer outdoor entertaining ideas

Transform your garden into a beautiful outdoor entertaining space with these helpful tips and styling ideas

An antique white metal bistro set in a cottage garden in full bloom. Image courtesy Rachel Whiting, Ryland Peters & Small⁠⁠.

Summer is here and socialising is back on the cards – hurrah! And we can’t wait to host our family and friends in the back garden for an al-fresco feast. So shake out your best tablecloth, dust off the parasol, fire up the fire pit and follow our guide to getting your garden ready for a summer of outdoor entertaining

Advertisement

The best dining tables and chairs for outdoor entertaining

Choosing a beautiful dining tables and set of chairs is imperative to throwing a good summer soirée. These options are comfortable, stylish and perfect for a garden of any shape or size…

If you don’t have a dedicated area in your garden for entertaining, such as a patio or terrace, you can create one by defining an area with planters and pots. This works in much the same way as dividing up an overly large open-plan indoor space by creating zones. Bringing tall potted flowers and greenery around your table area will also make it feel cosier and more secluded and bring the colours and scents of the garden up close.

This sleek teak set offers supreme comfort and all-weather durability for the ultimate leisurely lunch

Kuta teak table and eight Oakridge rattan chairs, £4,199, Bramblecrest – Buy it now

the Kuta teak table and eight Oakridge rattan chairs set offers supreme comfort and all-weather durability for the ultimate leisurely lunch, £4,199, Bramblecrest

This sweet folding bistro set is perfect for patios, balconies and smaller garden spaces

Rive Droite folding bistro set, £300, Garden Trading – Buy it now

this Rive Droite folding bistro set is perfect for patios and smaller spaces, £300, Garden Trading

Bring some continental style to the party with some shapely, vintage-style metal garden chairs

Deauville metal chairs, £225 each, Raj Tent Club – Buy it now

bring some continental style to the party with these Deauville metal chairs, £225 each, Raj Tent Club.

Transport yourself to the south of France with the Mediterranean-inspired dining set

4 Seasons outdoor 6-seater garden table and chairs set, £2,999, John Lewis & Partners – Buy it now

4 Seasons outdoor 6-seater garden table and chairs set, £2,999, John Lewis & Partners
Classic Collection fire pit, from £155, Firepits UK

The best accessories for outdoor entertaining

A pretty tablecloth, plus lights, flowers and candles, creates a joyful mood when hosting family and friends in your back garden. And these pretty pieces would be a brilliant addition to your outdoor tablescape…

Colourful touches, such as these statement lampshades, will bring your outdoor dining table to life

Hare and Horse Parade embroidered pendants, £195 each, Mind the Gap – Buy it now

Colourful touches, such as these Hare and Horse Parade embroidered pendants, £195 each from Mind the Gap, will bring your table alive

Make the occasion special with your best table linen. This set gives a sophisticated, Hamptons vibe…

Seville tablecloth, £75, The White Company – Buy it now

White cotton tablecloth, £45, cotton-linen napkins, four for £25, woven lantern lights, £28, all The White Company

A patterned tablecloth is an easy way elevate your dining table and set the scene for an al-fresco lunch

Rhubarb and Custard tablecloth and napkin set, £118, Montes & Clark – Buy it now

this cheerful Rhubarb and Custard tablecloth, £118, with matching placemats, £14, sets the scene for summer dining, all Montes & Clark

This Italian-inspired tablecloth looks like lace, but is also waterproof. Perfect for family gatherings!

Tuscany vinyl tablecloth, £69, Ella James – Buy it now

the Tuscany vinyl tablecloth, £69 from Ella James, looks like lace, but is also waterproof. Perfect!

No garden party would be complete without atmospheric lighting – and adding occasional lights can help to create a party mood. Strings of bulbs or small lanterns are ideal for weaving a twinkling canopy above your guests’ heads, while candles bring a magical atmosphere.

Pro Connect warm white festoon lights, £49.99, Lights4fun – Buy it now

The Trentham battery lantern, £19.99 each, Lights4fun – Buy it now

Slim battery LED candles with dripping wax, £19.99 for 6, Lights4fun – Buy it now

Festoon lights from Lights 4 Fun

How to style your summer garden party

Interior and garden stylist Selina Lake shares her insider secrets on creating an outdoor oasis for entertaining guests this summer…

How do you choose seating when dining outdoors?

When thinking about outdoor entertaining, seating comes first. If space is tight, use folding chairs and tables that can be put away and brought out as needed. Sometimes garden furniture isn’t very comfortable to sit on for long stretches, especially if it’s metal or wood, so it’s nice to add cushions to everyone’s seat so they feel really comfy.

An outdoor dining set covered with comfortable cushions. Photography by Rachel Whiting ©Ryland Peters & Small
Selina recommends using lots of cushions to keep your guests comfortable. Photography by Rachel Whiting ©Ryland Peters & Small

How do you create a relaxing atmosphere outdoors?

To create a party atmosphere for the evening, festoon lights that can be strung up like a canopy overhead add real impact. Candles are great for creating a lovely mood – the more, the merrier – but they will work best when placed in a hurricane lamp or a lantern, so they don’t keep blowing out.

British weather can be unpredictable, how do you make sure that guests stay warm and cosy? 

In terms of keeping warm, there are so many different kinds of burners and fire pits available. My tip would be to always make sure you have seasoned wood from a sustainable source, because if you just chuck any old wood on a fire, it will get really smoky. It’s also worth having lots of blankets and throws around. They’re good for styling up the place, as well as keeping warm. And having a really large parasol to hand will protect your guests from light showers as well as offering shade from the sun.

An outdoor garden scene with a chiminea. Photography by Rachel Whiting ©Ryland Peters & Small
Investing in a chiminea or fire pit and a good stock of seasoned logs will allow your party to carry on into the evening. Photography by Rachel Whiting ©Ryland Peters & Small.

How can you make the most of the plants in your garden?

I think it’s nice to have as many plants around you as possible, so you feel very ‘in’ the garden space, especially in areas like patios, that can feel a bit bare. If you have a few tall plants like foxgloves or delphiniums in pots, these can be used to enclose the space, cornering off an area for entertaining. In smaller areas, you can do the same thing with vases of flowers.

How do you lay the table for a summer garden party?

I always like to use a tablecloth on an outdoor table, as it makes the occasion feel more special. If you’re going for a vintage look, you could pick a chintzy floral, or if you wanted something more sophisticated and elegant, you could use a plain linen tablecloth.

I like to style my table quite formally because I think it looks nice when people arrive. Even if you’re just having a barbecue, you can still have lovely linen napkins and nice cutlery. I’m all for using things that I use inside; I just bring them outside. I don’t feel that you have to have special outdoor cutlery or plates and glasses.

Advertisement

For decoration I like to add flowers or small flowering plants in little pots dotted along the centre of the table, mixed in with candles. If it’s for an evening party, it’s better to use white flowers because you’ll be able to see them more as dusk falls. And it’s also nice to use scented varieties like Nemesia Wisley Vanilla, which has an amazing scent that gets stronger at night.