Beautiful summer days are a perfect opportunity to entertain outdoors. Here are a few outdoor party setup ideas I keep in mind to organize the layout and prioritize preparations and decorations. 

Although you can apply most indoor party planning techniques to an outdoor event, you do need to make special consideration for:
  • Party Area Zones
    • Welcome/Entrance
    • Mingling/Bar
    • Conversation/Seating
    • Food service
    • DJ/Dancing
    • Activities
  • Lighting
  • Serving
Party Area 

Think through the activities, food, drink and flow of guests to plan your party layout. I designate walkways and organize the party space into zones for particular activities. Depending upon the length and nature, you may need any or all of these zones:

Outdoor Party Zones:
  • Welcome/Entrance
  • Mingling/Bar
  • Conversation/Seating
  • Food service
  • DJ/Dancing
  • Activities
Obviously, your party layout will depend upon the size of your party and the features of your space, but here are some outdoor setup ideas & tips on putting together a 3-5 hour party that includes activities and eating:
  1. Establish your primary drink service and mingling zone in a central location away from traffic areas. For example, a covered or shaded location away from the entrance to the kitchen/house and adjacent to the activity area(s).
  2. For large parties, set up a separate drink station opposite the primary bar, perhaps on the back porch or just inside the house.
  3. The mingling zone should overlook or be adjacent to the start of activity areas. For example, overlooking the pool and start of the croquet course to encourage participation and interaction with non-players. 
  4. If possible, position the mingling area within site of the guest entrance.
  5. For light meals and snacks, serve food in or near the mingling area.
  6. Add your conversation/seating area at the end or just outside the mingling area.
  7. For a cookout or buffet, put serving tables on the back porch or adjacent to the kitchen and grill. 
  8. Place chairs and tables (optionally) for eating just outside your food service area.
  9. Setup a dance area and DJ between the mingling area and house. 
  10. Circulation makes a good party great, so ideally your guests should be able to easily move from one area to the next without encountering a dead end. For example, a tent adjacent to the pool or sun deck with croquet, corn hole toss, and badminton radiating out on the 3 other sides.
  11. Delineate party zones and walkways with a combination of hardscapes, natural features and decorations. In addition to paved surfaces and structures, you may also use:
    • Lighting
      • String lights
      • Lanterns
      • Torches
    • Hanging decorations
      • Banners
      • Pennants
      • Flag borders
      • Party tape
    • Furniture
    • Potted plants, trees & flowers
    • Tents and canopies
    • Flooring and astroturf
    • Bamboo shades

In addition, to welcoming your guests, direct them to your outdoor party area. Start with theme decorations on the door, porch or front yard. 

Use signage, pennants, party tape or other decorations to show them the way to fun! Colorful chalk designs and arrows on the sidewalk are a unique variation, or use string lights for a night party.

For example, if you want guests to enter through a side gate, hang pennants out from the gate to catch their eye, include a banner above and/or theme decorations on the entrance. 

Also, include a sign on the front door pointing to the preferred path for the less observant. Confidentially, I also lock the front door to discourage traffic through the house and make it easier to see and greet new arrivals. In addition, your decorated entrance will be much more festive for your guests.


Depending upon the size of your party, you may need to set-up a main and auxiliary drink service area or bar. To keep your guests together and mingling plan your party around your main bar, easily accessible to the pool, activities, and seating area.

For smaller parties, make a self-serve station for your pre-mixed signature cocktail and soft drinks at your main bar. Optionally, include a basic bar setup or a self-serve bar indoors for other cocktails.


Unlike a cocktail party, seating is necessary for extended outdoor parties, but keep them close. If space allows, allocate an area at the end of the mingling area for seating, otherwise place conversation areas in a shaded location adjacent to the main bar area. Keep them small and intimate.

Food Service

If you are planning a cookout or full meal, create a separate venue for dining. The change in scenery will also mix up your guests and keep your party interesting. Setup your serving table or buffet in a separate location with ample seating or tables to keep the party together.

For lighter fare and shorter events, setting up a serving table or buffet in or just outside the mingling area will be a welcome treat without disrupting the party flow.


If you are planning a DJ & dancing or some form of entertainment, the ideal location is between your main bar and food service. For a pool party, designate one end of the pool deck for the dance floor.


Plan activities that encourage physical movement and interaction with participating and non-participating guests. Some fun examples, include:
  • Croquet
  • Bocce Ball
  • Corn Hole Toss
  • Swimming
  • Badminton
  • Blongo/Ladder Ball
  • Dancing
  • Horseshoes
  • Ring Toss
  • Pool/Sundeck

If your party is after dark, you will need a lighting plan that does not use glaring flood lights. Indirect soft lighting is best for any party, but you will need more of it outdoors. Some ideas include:
  • Luminaries
  • String lights
  • Lighted lanterns
  • Umbrella lights
  • Battery-powered LEDs
  • Glow sticks
  • Light orbs
  • Votive candles
  • Torches or torch candles
  • Solar-powered lights
Also, adding one or more Gobos to a night party is always an extra fun detail.


Incorporate the traffic of servers, clean-up and storage of supplies, utensils, and equipment in your party layout. 
  • Designate a corridor around guests for clean-up and restocking supplies
  • Skirt your tables to hide:
    • Back-up bar supplies 
    • Bus pans for dishes
    • Trash receptacles
  • Position surfaces for drinks and trash, especially in the activity zone:
    • Tables
    • Drink rails
    • Barrels
    • Large logs on end
    • Simulated pilings
    • Anything that fits your theme
  • Place indiscreet trash receptacles, if you do not have servers picking up
Have you hosted an outdoor event before, what are some outdoor party setup ideas you have discovered?

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