The Secret to Effortless Outdoor Entertaining

I love to eat my meals outdoors in the summer months, but I love eating outdoors when family and friends are over even more, especially now that we are living on a lake.

I think my love of eating meals outdoors goes back to my childhood. When we went outside to eat it was called “a Cook-out”. When we heard my mom say…“we are having a cook-out tonight”, my siblings and I got EXCITED!

lake house yard and loblolly pines

Nowadays, cooking outside is more commonly referred to as outdoor entertaining. I have such vivid and fond memories of red gingham tablecloths draped across a classic redwood picnic table with family and friends gathered around eating the classic American fare of hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad. Dessert came when we would hear the sound of the ice cream man’s truck. :-)

I have been to many outdoor gatherings in my lifetime, some fancy, most very casual.  I enjoyed taking note of the details at each one and how the hostess made it all seem so effortless.  I used what I learned over the years so that I, too could make an outdoor party easy to host.


There were three things that I found all carefree hostesses do. I adopted them many years ago. Since I know they work, I want to share them with you.

The Secrets to Effortless Outdoor Entertaining

Plan a meal that you are comfortable making.

Making a brand new to you recipe for a party will only stress you out. Choose recipes that you know how to make, and make without even having to think. Make it every time you entertain for the summer season. Use recipes that you don’t even need a recipe for, ones that are your tried and true, that can be made ahead of time and that will always have your guests asking for more.

To make this way of meal planning sound “hip and trendy” call it your “Signature Meal” for the summer entertaining season. Most of the time you will have different people over for different events and occasions so no one will be the wiser that you served the same meal two weeks ago when you had a couple from work over to dine alfresco.

Type up a list for all the ingredients required to make the signature meal so you can grab the list and go to the grocery store at a moments notice knowing that you got it all covered.


Offer something unique and different from your guests day to day dining experience.

This could be as simple as eating by the glow of candlelight to using disposable foil cake tins bought at the dollar store to serve the food on instead of a plate. Maybe change things up by not having all your guests sit down at one large table, but at smaller tables set up around the backyard to eat off of while your guests play simple lawn games like horseshoes or croquet. I find that many are always up for a challenge.

Tips for summertime entertaining

Think of a way that would make eating outdoors at your house unique.

Set up things in advance and have a party basket that makes doing it effortless.

What’s a party basket? I wrote about it in this post along with free printables to help your party be well-organized and run smoothy so you, as the hostess can enjoy it, too.

I learned about this magical basket or cabinet from a southern friend of mine who had to “impromptu entertain” frequently because of her husband’s job.


Once I have these 3 items in check, on the afternoon of day of the party, I like to get the table set. This summer, my new house offers lots of places to eat outside. On the deck, out over the water in the gazebo, and at a classic wooden picnic table on the lawn.

Outdoor Tablecloth Idea

There is always a breeze blowing off the lake, so tablecloths can become a nuisance. I found this roll of paper mesh to use as a table runner at Walmart. It was inexpensive, but adds a little style and can be tossed after a few uses.

Outdoor entertaining made effortless

I used thumb tacks underneath the table to hold it in place…no worries about the wind anymore.

Summer entertaining tips

Next I set up the candles. I love to see them all around, not only on the table, but all around the outdoor area to create a festive ambiance for the evening ahead. In past summers, I have used TIKI torches to provide candle lit ambiance, but the torch fuel used in these was petroleum-based and always left a smoky, sooty mess in the air that could at times become overwhelming, especially on a table while eating.

That is no longer the case…


…If you have found this smoky mess prohibits your use of the torches, you will be happy to learn that TIKI Brand has a brand new fuel called Clean Burn™. It is a plant-based formula with dramatically less smoke and no unpleasant petroleum odors since it contains no petroleum-based ingredients. It is dramatically different…no smell, no smoky mess.

Using a few tabletop torches even allowed us to eat outside, bug-free when the midges were out in force for a few days last month. I thought there would be no way, but I lit the new Clean Burn™ Firepieces and my favorite Molded Glass Table Torches that I had from last year about an hour before we were planning to go outside and I was ecstatic to find no bugs that would have chased us back inside :-)


Clean Burn™ Tabletop Firepieces feature a bright flame that provides the perfect light and ambiance that I love to see when dining outdoors. They come with a reusable Roundwick™ burner system that provides up to 3 hours of burn time with every fill.

This new style wick absorbs the fuel which reduces the risk of fuel spillage. The fireplaces come in a variety of colors, textures and sizes to fit your tabletop or outdoor style.


My favorite Molded Glass Table Torches are back this year too. I used these almost every night last summer. You can see more about them in this post.  You can find them at Walmart and home improvement stores.  They make great summer hostess gifts.

Are you planning to have a cook out or two this summer or do you prefer to call it outdoor entertaining?  No matter what you like to call it, when the stress factor is taken away, entertaining is not so scary. Don’t worry about being a style-setter, a caterer, or the perfect host. Instead, it can be about creating a happy occasion that permits you to enjoy family and friends. More important, however, is that you have fun doing it.

Outdoor entertaining ideas, tips, and tricks that will make entertaining a breeze and let you enjoy your own party as the host. | In My Own Style

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  1. You are so creative. I love your lakeside home and how inspiring you are.
    We use a picnic table at the back of our yard for the kids to gather when we have a barbecue.
    Great idea of tacking the cloth down.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Barbara – Thanks for the nice note. Tacking the cloth down was something my mom always used to do. She was very creative. I just took her idea and used it for a runner instead. I hope you get to enjoy many a BBQ’s this summer with your kids this summer.

  2. Thanks for the great tips! I also read the other articles you recommended and pinned some of your photos.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Jenna – Thanks so much. I truly appreciate you pinning and reading my posts.

  3. catpainter says:

    You have such a good eye! I plan to buy several rolls of that paper next shopping trip. Not only will I use it as a table runner but I can already see many other great uses! What a find! Will also pick up the fuel and the torches for our sunroom meals, so much better than candles because they will tame the little insects that seem to make their way in. Once again, thank you for some wonderful ideas.

  4. Terri/Houston lady says:

    Hi Diane, Thanks for the tips! We love to entertain especially now that we are retired and have moved back home (we now live close to our family) ? I am heading to Walmart to pick up those glass torches LOL I will be purchasing a few for myself and few to give away as hostess gifts!!

    Have a great day!

  5. Sheryll $ Critters. says:

    I had forgot about these gorgeous table torches since you last posted them. Thank goodness I still am able to purchase a few!

    Wonderful tip about not doing an untried dish! Been there, done that one and never again with me.

  6. I love the glass torches and, in fact, bought them last year after seeing them in your blog. They are a great size, burn for a long time and the colors are quite pretty.

    I also agree with your menu idea……I have a spreadsheet (gotta love my OCD heart) where I list the meats I like to cook, then the salads, then the sides and finally dessert. Then, when we entertain, I select what sounds good….a meat, a side and a salad….it works because I know they are delicious and go well together and I don’t have to rack my brain to think of something.

  7. Diane,
    Such an inspiration to brighten up my Monday morning….you are a joy! Thank you for the tips, it gives me confidence I can do a party outside this summer!

  8. Love all of your helpful tips! Where did you purchase the molded table torches?
    As always so helpful!!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – You can buy the molded glass table torches at Walmart or any home improvement store. Amazon has them, too. Every retailer carries different items and colors, but I did see the glass ones just last week at Walmart.

  9. I have to say- anything that can keep the midges away is fantastical!!
    I will have to try .

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Kat – Being new to lake living, we were surprised by the midges and could not believe how bad they could be. Even though they don’t bite – they are gross! I was so happy to see them go away from the areas that I set the TIKI table torches on. :-)

  10. I have a question. When I read about the clean fuel, it doesn’t say anything about keeping bugs away like the citronella ones. does the clean fuel keep bugs away too?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Laurie – Yes, the new smoke and soot free fuel keeps the bugs away. That is what TIKI is known for. They just made the fuel better. To light up the night in a pretty way while keeping the bugs away. :-)

  11. Your post was just what I needed this morning. I purchased some table top torches over the weekend and planned to use the regular torch fuel. I will look for the clean fuel the next time I am out and about.



    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Patti – If you have used the previous fuel, you will see a huge difference when using the new plant based fuel – no smell or smoke, but it keeps the bugs away in the same way as the old fuel. A winner all around.

    2. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Patti – Both fuels are great, but if you find that the torches are creating too much smoke when lit, especially in and around table areas where you are eating, you will love the clean burn furl since it has no smoke and little to no smell.

  12. Julia@Cuckoo4Design says:

    Great tips and I love those glass torches

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Again Julia – I love the little glass torches too. I bought quite a few of them last year and gave them out to friends as hostess gifts when invited to a summer party.