“People tend to congregate in the same area—typically the bar,” said New York designer Phillip Thomas, who creates focal points to entice guests to wander. Some suggestions: a fire pit, giant Jenga or Connect-4 style games, croquet, bocce or pétanque. Group a few lawn chairs away from the action for those who want to sit and chat, added Mr. Thomas. Visually, that creates “an interesting fixture on the horizon as well as a destination.”
Cart the libations
“A rolling bar cart is a great investment that can elevate an otherwise laid-back outdoor meal and be used indoors during winter months,” said Manhattan designer Tina Ramchandani. It also allows people to serve themselves.
Domesticate the yard
Shannon Wollack, founder of Studio Life.Style in Beverly Hills, Calif., suggests bringing the indoors out by setting floor pillows on the grass or a blanket beside a low table. “This creates visual layers, but it’s also functional,” she said.
“Candelabras at a casual party can be a great contrast and dramatic,” said Sag Harbor, N.Y., designer Tamara Magel. In her place settings, green glasses echo the verdure in the yard. “It changes the whole feel of the table,” she said.
Banish red solo cups
New York event designer and planner Bronson van Wyck suggests springing for classic (and shatterproof) silver julep cups. “They feel polished and can double as vases for flowers, greens and garnishes,” he said. “Everything tastes better in them, too, especially bourbon.”
“I like eating under the long expanse of a tree limb or in an indoor-outdoor space with a view framed by nature,” said San Francisco landscape designer Katharine Webster. “These types of scenarios create lasting imprints we yearn for in the deep dead of winter.”
Sack the tables
“I love using burlap for my tablecloths,” said Taniya Nayak, a Boston interior designer and restaurateur. “It’s inexpensive, disposable and gives an outdoor party a rustic chic feel.”
Be of the cloth
MYdrap biodegradable cotton napkins can be washed six times before you toss them, said Raun L. Thorp, of New York architects Tichenor & Thorp. They’re available in multiple sizes and colors, “and they come on a roll!”
Switch up the greenery
“In an elegant outdoor table-scape, it’s all about creating texture,” said Andrew Petronio of New York’s KA Design Group. Succulent plants add an unexpected organic note.
Soft-pedal the silver
“Wax papers come in a variety of colors and help mismatched serving pieces feel cohesive,” said Mr. van Wyck. You can even break out the fine stuff. “Upgrade your spread with your grandmother’s silver trays,” he said, “which will look right at home in the backyard when lined with red waxed paper.”
Deluxe the comfort food
“Add some high-low combinations to your menu,” said New York party planner Sam Masters. “Truffled mac-and-cheese, sage-brined fried chicken and a pickled-okra and heirloom-tomato salad are fancy twists on easy classics.”
Coordinate your condiments
Transfer ketchup, mustard, et al., to plain clear squeeze bottles, which can be found at the Container Store, suggested Brooklyn, N.Y., chef and stylist Anna Harrington. “They’ll look neat—matching and without branded labels.”
Supply some herb
Paris architect Philippe Maidenberg recommended decorating the yard with inexpensive and easy-to-find whole mint plants. “You can always cut off a few leaves and add it to water, tea, cocktails,” he said. Not to mention pinching off a piece to freshen your lobster-tinged breath.
“It seems basic, but having a good-looking trash can is important,” said Melissa Warner Rothblum of Massucco Warner Miller, based in Los Angeles and Seattle. This eliminates a flow of people taking trash inside or, worse, setting it down randomly.
Light the way
“We love all of the modern options for rechargeable LED lighting,” said Anita Dawson of San Diego’s Dawson Design Group. Favorites include the portable FollowMe table lamps by Marset. “They hold their charges for hours and can easily follow the party as guests migrate from patio, pools and if you’re lucky, to the beach.”