8 Outdoor Entertaining Tips From Top Landscape Designers


What does it take to throw a successful outdoor gathering? According to leading landscape designers, the recipe for a memorable fête is a combination of preparedness, comfort and considerate ways to treat the senses. Whether you’re hosting a casual affair around the fire pit or a full-course meal among the fireflies, these outdoor entertaining tips will ensure your space is always guest-ready.

A bosque of trees providing natural shade to an outdoor seating group with red upholstery and an accompanying fire feature

A custom fire pit by Arterra Landscape Architects supplies warmth to plush seating sourced through Pebble Beach, California, designer Stephanie Sendell.

Set the scene.

Gretchen Whittier, Arterra Landscape Architects

Our clients tend to lean toward a subdued hardscape color palette that can serve as the backdrop for furniture with pops of color and personality. Shade is another frequent request, and a bosque of trees or a vine-laden arbor can provide needed break from the sun while also creating a cozy setting.


Outdoor entertaining area with privacy screen, fire pit and lounge seating

This urban backyard by Hoerr Schaudt | Landscape Architects is ideal for entertaining guests—seamlessly transitioning from day to night thanks to the ample gathering space allotted around a warming fire feature.

Think festively.

Douglas Hoerr, Hoerr Schaudt | Landscape Architects

Begin by setting up your point of service—your bar, for example—to allow for ease of circulation, since that’s where most guests tend to gather. Always be prepared for capricious weather: have a tent set up for rain, shaded areas for hot sun, fans for air movement and so on. And since most entertaining continues into the evening, you’ll want to extend the party by incorporating fire features, blankets and warm lighting that will encourage your guests to linger.


A festive outdoor entertaining area featuring string lights and a table with dining chairs

A dining table cleverly doubles as a table tennis court in this outdoor space created by Daigh Rick Landscape Architects in concert with Allard Ward Architects, J.Lackey Interiors and Sabia Construction.

Make room for surfaces.

Anne Daigh, Daigh Rick Landscape Architects

We try to find space for a table in every garden we design. These are the staples of entertaining: used for seated meals, catered food, potting or displaying plants, even fun activities such as crafts and games. These pieces can also be multipurpose; a game of table tennis can quickly transform into dinner under the stars.


Traditional poolside loggia with hanging lanterns and multiple seating groups

A formal poolside loggia fashioned by Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc. feels anything but stuffy thanks to its comfortable furnishings and cooling shade.

Maintain the mood.

Craig Bergmann, Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc.

For daytime entertaining, provide no more than dappled sunlight unless party attendees are in swimwear; all too often, people overheat at outdoor events. If hosting during the evening, your party itinerary should include a planned moment inside at twilight to avoid the major mosquito invasion that often happens at dusk. After about 45 minutes, head back outdoors for more cocktails and a candlelit dinner.


Swimming pool and poorhouse at evening, lit by lanterns and a fire pit

Shown at dusk, this elegant pool house and adjoining lounge area by Renée Byers Landscape Architect touts Munder Skiles armchairs and rechargeable lights by Belgium-based Tekna.

Let form meet function.

Renée Byers, Renée Byers Landscape Architect

Remember the functional details, but make them beautiful. When planning spaces for entertaining, include a small sink nearby if feasible. A cabana with a mirrored backsplash can reflect the garden and is convenient when located right near a fire feature, which can double as a cocktail table and is often large enough to serve hors d’oeuvres. 



Backyard entertaining area at dusk

From the elegant pergola to the dining terrace to the infinity-edge water feature, this multi-zone outdoor living space by Land Morphology offers numerous zones for eating, mingling and appreciating nature.

Go for the glow. 

Richard Hartlage, Land Morphology

Outdoor lighting is a must, whether it is overhead strings, hanging lanterns or a fully integrated lighting plan. There is nothing more wonderful than a summer evening spent catching up with friends running long after the sun has set before everyone realizes the late hour.  



Gracious courtyard garden with raised beds and seating area

This combination vegetable and cutting garden by Janice Parker Landscape Architects includes a small terrace and fireplace for outdoor entertaining.

Get fragrant with florals.

Janice Parker, Janice Parker Landscape Architects

I like to plant white flowers around outdoor entertaining spaces. As the day turns into the evening, many of these iridescent blossoms will literally glow. And if they are highly scented—like nicotiana alata—all the better. There is nothing like the perfumed scent of a garden space. Pots of herbs work, as well. 


A rustic and classic Hamptons pool house with built-in banquette for entertaining outdoors

A Hamptons pool house by Dan Scotti Design offers an inviting locale for conviviality and cocktails thanks to conversation pieces that include iconic Willy Guhl planters—now filled with beach grasses—purchased at Eneby Home in Nashville. The vintage sailfish sculpture previously served as a wall prop at a clothing store, the coffee table is custom and the lounge seating is by RH.

Toast to thinking ahead.

Dan Scotti, Dan Scotti Design

Create a signature cocktail for your event, preferably one that’s tequila-based. Mixing up your own recipe is fun and will allow you to get away with offering fewer options. Cheers!