Hosting Tips

All Your Summer Entertaining Questions, Answered

You’ve got this.

By Camille Styles
Photography Michelle Nash
summer entertaining tips-camille styles fire pit

Little known fact: I started my career as an event planner for a catering company. It was actually the perfect first job for me, combining my passions for food, design, and gathering people together. (The downsides included insane hours and high-stress clients, but it was good experience for 22-year-old me.)

Though I’ve long been out of the event planning biz, I still love to host a party. But instead of the champagne towers and elaborate dessert bars of my past life, today my ideal type of gathering is a casual, kick-your-shoes-off affair, preferably outside in the sunshine. After all: everything tastes better al fresco!

summer entertaining tips-buffet

That said, anyone who’s ever invited people for a casual backyard dinner knows: an outdoor party comes with its own set of challenges. Blazing sun, pesky mosquitos, maintaining food temperatures (and keeping the flies away) are details that can make or break the festivities. My background in catering, combined with the countless parties I’ve thrown through the years, has taught me some invaluable lessons that I employ to make my own gatherings feel (almost) effortless.

So today, we’re rounding up the most frequently asked questions I get about how to host a summer party. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to find the next open evening on your calendar (yep, weeknights work, too!) shoot a few texts to some friends, and grab some snacks to whip up a simple, delicious spread.

Read on for a handful of my tried-and-true secrets, and be sure to download our ultimate summer entertaining guide for all the menus, inspiration, and planning advice you need to host in style all season long.

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summer entertaining tips-cheese board

All your summer entertaining questions, answered

Q: What’s the best way to invite people to a casual summer party?

A: Three words: keep it chill. An invitation sets the tone, so for a simple outdoor party, don’t overthink it! In my opinion, a group text or email is the way to go. And I’ve found that when I make things really easy on myself, I’m naturally inclined to invite friends over more frequently. In addition to arrival time, I like to let people know the approximate time we’ll be eating so we’re not firing up the grill multiple times over the course of an evening (i.e., “come at 4 to swim, burgers at 6!”)

It’s also helpful to provide a loose dress code so people know what to expect. Swimsuits? Shorts? Summer dresses? Since summer parties can have drastically different dress expectations, everyone will appreciate a few clues as to what they should wear.

summer entertaining tips-appetizers

Q: What are some simple menu ideas? I feel like I’m always stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is outside having fun.

A: I have a few strategies to keep the menu simple—the one I choose will depend on the type of party and who’s coming. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Snacks for dinner. Summer is the perfect time to curate a delicious spread of store-bought staples with a few artisanal treats. Assemble a snacking board full of delicious cheeses, olives, crudités, dips, dried fruit, nuts—really your options are endless. Green goddess dressing is downright addictive, and the perfect accompaniment for any type of seasonal veggies.

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summer entertaining tips-grapes cheese table

Semi-homemade feast. The goal is to be able to relax and hang out with your guests, so no matter how experienced a party thrower you are, it’s great to have a few hacks up your sleeve. To save tons of time, try a “semi-homemade” approach. Buy the main course from a fave spot (like a roast chicken from the deli, or bagels from your favorite bakery) and fill in with homemade sides and salads that can be made in advance and will make it feel like you cooked it all.

Throw it on the grill. Rule #1 when planning a menu: you don’t want to include anything that will have you cranking out food like a short-order cook when guests are there. Which is where the grill really comes in handy. I like to have my proteins already marinated or seasoned before guests show up so that all that’s left to do is throw them on the grill. Often, I’ll also grill the veggie sides to keep things really easy on myself—and keep clean-up to a minimum!

Need menu ideas? Get three simple menus—plus all the recipes—in the summer entertaining guide.

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Q: How can you speed up grilling clean-up?

A: Grilling is one of the most low-maintenance ways to cook for a group—with a little know-how. Here are my tips for grilling clean-up that save tons of time:

  • Oil the Grill Grates: Before grilling, oil the grates to prevent food from sticking. Use a brush or paper towel dipped in oil.
  • Pre-Clean the Grill: While the grill is heating up, use a grill brush to scrape off any residue from previous cooking sessions.
  • Marinate in Bags: Marinate meat and vegetables in resealable plastic bags. This reduces the number of dishes you need to clean. Then I use tongs to transfer them straight from bag to grill, so the only dish that’s actually getting used is what you’re serving it on.
  • Clean While Warm: After cooking, while the grill is still warm (but not hot), use a brush to remove any remaining food particles.
summer entertaining tips-rose wine goblet

Q: What should I serve to drink that won’t leave me refilling glasses all night?

A: I sound like a broken record, but the key is to keep it as simple as possible—less time spent bartending means more time sipping cocktails yourself! For just about any summer occasion, you can get away with 3 drinks and call it a day:

A fun batched cocktail. Sangria, margaritas, punch—pre-mix a big pitcher, then let guests help themselves. A few favorite pitcher drinks? This Mezcal Paloma and this Strawberry Rosé Sangria are about as summery as they come. Aperol Spritz is a summer cocktail beloved by all, perfect for an Italian menu. Or, try a Blood Orange Margarita for a delicious twist on a classic.

summer entertaining tips-camille and henry kids
summer entertaining tips-dinner party table2

A rosé or a white wine. This is a perfect item to have guests contribute when they ask what they can bring to the party.

Flavor-infused water. Fill a large carafe with water and add fruit or herbs for a festive touch. Bonus points for providing a fun non-alcoholic option like sparkling lemonade or iced tea.

A good rule of thumb is to plan for 1 1/2 drinks per person per hour. And at an outdoor summer party, always have more water and ice than you think you’ll need.

summer entertaining tips-camille skirt

Q: What if it’s super hot on the day of my party?

A: Again, have way more water at the ready than you think you’ll need! And—sunscreen is a non-negotiable. Do your guests a favor and have some sunscreen available for them to reapply as needed (browse our favorite clean options.) I love the look of outdoor umbrellas, and I typically scatter 2 or 3 around a party space for lifesaving shade.

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summer entertaining tips-kids laughing citrus

Q: What are some good outdoor activities to keep the vibes high?

A: Go all in on the carefree vibes of summer and plan some classic party games and activities to make your gathering unforgettable. A few of my faves:

  • Yard games like bocce ball, croquet, and cornhole are great for encouraging people to let loose and have a good time together.
  • Music is crucial to the vibe, so don’t leave this to chance. My current favorite for hanging out and eating dinner is the Daybreak playlist from Casa Zuma. And you can always turn up the beat as the night goes on and see if an impromptu dance party breaks out.
summer entertaining tips-kelti drinking wine

Q: How can I cut the small talk and have engaging conversations?

A: You’re speaking my love language—good conversation is the key to any gathering! We put together a list of 30 conversation starters to inspire thoughtful and engaging chats. Keep a few of these in your back pocket and you’ll step into every interaction with confidence (and curiosity!) And I guarantee, the party will never get boring.

Answers to more FAQs in the guide:

  • What about paper plates and plastic glasses—are they tacky?
  • What’s an easy dessert option?
  • How can I keep bugs at bay?
  • How can I keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold?
  • Plus, more high-vibe activities to keep the party going and—
  • Three menus (and full-page recipes) so you’ll always know what to serve.