People enjoying a party in the backyard People enjoying a party in the backyard People enjoying a party in the backyard People enjoying a party in the backyard
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Mastering the Art of Summer Entertaining

Longer days and warmer evenings equal the perfect time for al fresco get-togethers with family and friends. Here are six ideas to help jumpstart your summer party planning and add luxe appeal to your backyard or patio with ease.

1. Shape things up. If your outdoor space includes a big deck or an expansive lawn, make it cozier and more festive by laying inexpensive indoor-outdoor carpet on the patio or grass (mow it a few days before) to create "rooms" within the larger yard. To facilitate flow and ease of conversation for friends and family, set your bar or drink station away from the dining area or buffet table. And while most guests will likely stand and mingle, make sure you have seating areas sprinkled throughout the space.

2. Romance the space. Hang large and medium-size round paper lanterns (available online; some come wired with lights) at varying heights in the trees, and stick to one or two colors that play off your table linens for maximum effect. Everyone looks good by candlelight, so place jewel-toned lanterns and votives in a variety of sizes and heights on the patio and tabletops. Have an outdoor wall that needs some personality? Use double-stick tape or a staple gun to form colorful string lights into a signature design or a single word, like "Summer" or "Welcome," to dress it up. Paper luminaries – small bags filled with sand and votive candles – provide an easy and inexpensive way to glamorize paths and walkways. Trim the tops of the bags with pinking shears or create a pattern of dots with a hole puncher above the sand line to add an unexpected flourish.

3. Comfort is key. Patio furniture is sometimes not the most comfortable, so outfit chairs and benches with pretty pillows. Hang cotton throws over the back of couches and chaises, and place soft shawls or pashminas in a wicker basket so guests can grab them if the night gets chilly. On the flip side, if heat and humidity are the norm in your neck of the woods, set a large-footed bowl filled with colorful paper fans near the door, and position electric fans on the floor at either end of the party space to keep air circulating and everyone cool and relaxed.

4. Feed a crowd. While there's no exact science for projecting how much food guests will consume, estimate about 8 to 10 appetizers per person at a cocktail party; halve that number if you'll be serving dinner. Instead of passing out appetizers, set up a couple of simple-to-restock stations featuring cheese and charcuterie or a mix of bruschetta and crostini. For dinner, opt for a meal that's delicious without being fussy or time-consuming: Think spiral-cut ham or spicy boiled shrimp, buttermilk biscuits, a big green salad (dressing on the side), and make-ahead favorites like pesto pasta and roasted rosemary potatoes, all of which taste great at room temperature.

5. Offer a signature cocktail. In addition to sparkling water, juices and assorted sodas, mix up icy pitchers of a special libation for the occasion. One idea: Combine 4 cups of cold pomegranate juice, 4 cups of cold ginger ale, 2 tablespoons of honey, and 1 large lemon cut into paper-thin rounds. Serve over crushed ice with a splash or two of vodka, if desired, and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

6. Play it again, Sam. Every great party needs a killer soundtrack. Choose tunes that won't drown out conversation, and remember that about 40 songs equal two hours of uninterrupted music. Feeling inspired? Create a custom playlist with a theme, such as jazz classics from the 1950s and '60s, or songs that all include the word "summertime" or "party" in the title.

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