For evening entertaining, lighting has to be considered. Tiki torches and Christmas lights are a very simple, fun way to decorate a laid-back gathering such as a barbecue or block party. For a more formal gathering, you will want more elegant lighting options. The obvious solution is to use candles, but candles can present a risk if there is a large group. If you use candles, make sure to use some type of globe over them so nothing catches fire as a breeze blows by. Lanterns are a good alternative because they contain the flame (unless you use battery-operated lanterns) and they can be set on the table or hung from posts around the yard to be both functional and decorative.
A more intimate and playful setting can be created by using an outdoor fireplace or fire pit. These are especially nice on cool nights or after a dinner party because not only do they provide light, they can be used to roast marshmallows. This might be a better late summer or fall activity, but can still be enjoyable in the summer as long as it is not too hot.
Outdoor furniture and shelter are major considerations in hosting outdoor events. If you have the space and the money, a gazebo is a creative solution because it's beautiful and it provides both shade and seating. For a cheaper option, you can get a canopy (i.e., from Home Depot, $199) or a large umbrella. Canopies are really convenient if you plan on having food outside because you can set up tables and let the netting hang down to keep out pesky flies and bees.
A truly fun piece for entertaining is this "barzebo," which is essentially a canopy that comes with a small bar and two bar stools (i.e., Home Depot, $399). Such a piece could be used for a more formal event, or made more casual by adding the tiki torches and Christmas lights. Either way, it makes entertaining as easy as it looks. Having a small bar outside is a simple matter of moving it to the right spot and stocking it with cold drinks, but it looks very impressive and shows your guests that you put a lot of thought into the event.
Once you have figured out lighting and furniture, it's time for the finishing touches that can take your party from good to fabulous! If you have patio furniture, make sure you have some throw pillows to add some of your personality and make your guests more comfortable. If not, think of how you want tables and chairs arranged (lawn chairs that you borrowed from neighbors will do just fine). If you're having a family-style meal, you'll want one large table or several small tables put together to form a large table. However, using small tables placed spread out from each other can encourage more conversation and help the guests get to know each other better. If you want music to enhance the atmosphere, it is better to purchase outdoor speakers and place them around the yard. They connect right to your stereo in the house and allow the music to permeate the whole yard better than bringing the stereo outside would.
Everyone loves being outside in the summer, so think about some of these decorating ideas, get creative, and have fun entertaining!