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Balmy summer nights are perfect for dinners alfresco. You can throw some beers in the cooler and some burgers on the grill, or pop open a nice bottle of wine and set out a plate of hors d’oeuvres, and watch the stars come out. But if you want to throw a really good outdoor party, you have to pay close attention to how you arrange and appoint your outdoor space.

When you decorate your outdoor space, you need to consider the needs and comfort of your guests as they move through the stages of the evening. You need a good table for dining, an intimate ambiance to foster conversation, lighting for safety, and so much more. Here’s how you can turn your backyard into the perfect spot for entertaining.

A Good Foundation

Whether you plan to have cookouts, dinner parties, outdoor movie nights, cocktail soirees, or some combination of the above, you need a solid foundation for your outdoor furniture and decor. A deck or patio lends permanence to your outdoor entertaining space, and it’s the perfect place to fire up your Weber charcoal grill, so make sure to arrange your dining table and chairs here.

Plenty of Seating

You can’t expect your party guests to stand all night, so you’ll need to plan for plenty of seating in your outdoor entertainment space. Seating around the dining table is a given, and if your deck or patio is large enough, you can also include a separate seating area with comfy outdoor sofas and chairs around a coffee table, fire pit, or fire place. Wooden benches with cushions are great for seating in your outdoor space, too, and you can grab some Adirondack chairs or director’s chairs for additional seating on the grass. Use outdoor rugs to delineate different spaces on your deck or patio.

A Table for Four — Or More

A round table is best for your outdoor entertaining space, because you can fit more people around a round table than you can a square one. Do you often host groups of varying sizes? Consider an expanding table with a center leaf. You can even use an indoor table, as long as you have somewhere to store it out of the elements between dinner parties. Need something classic and long-lasting? Grab a wooden picnic table and treat it with weather-resistant stain.

Intimate Ambiance

2 Here’s What You Need for the Perfect Outdoor Entertainment SpaceYour guests are going to want to talk to each other, so nestle seats together instead of spacing them out. Avoid loud water features and keep music in the background so that guests can hear each other without straining. Add string lighting, candles, tiki torches, or other soft lighting to seating areas to help set the mood.

Easy Access to Food and Drink

As at any party, guests at your outdoor parties need to be able to find the refreshments easily. Set up a grilling station or other outdoor credenza as a buffet table in your dining area. Include a cooler or mini-fridge for drinks, or make your own cooler table to stash beverages. Just make sure that refreshments are easily accessible from all areas of the party — it might get awkward if everyone has to traipse into the outdoor living room to grab a beer out of the ice bucket coffee table.

Shelter from the Elements

If you live in an area that gets summer rains, you’re going to want some kind of shelter over at least part of your outdoor entertainment space, so that you don’t have to keep canceling cookouts due to rain. You can put up a gazebo for grilling out and eating, or build a covered porch. Make sure the covered area is big enough to shelter all your guests comfortably from the weather.

If you live in a more arid climate, you’ll still need some shelter from the sun. A pergola or canvas canopy is ideal.

Landscape Lighting

Mood lighting can make your yard look pretty, but landscape lighting makes it safer to navigate in the dark. Add landscape lighting on steps and along walkways to protect your guests from injury, or face talking your homeowners insurance into paying their medical bills.

A good outdoor entertainment space can really extend your indoor real estate. With cozy comfort and the right ambiance, you can show your friends that your backyard parties aren’t just some kind of fad — they’re here to stay.