How to Serve Food Outdoors in the Summertime

These tips and tricks will help you serve food buffet-style to a crowd — and make dining alfresco easier for guests and the host alike.

Photo By: Melanie Grizzel ©2012, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Ev Thomas

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Melanie Grizzel ©2012, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Outdoor Eats

Dining alfresco is one of the great joys of summertime and it instantly transforms an ordinary meal into something special. But between unexpected weather, bugs and other challenging elements, outdoor meals can sometimes be a bit more complicated to maneuver.

Serving food buffet-style outside is a great upgrade to the classic summer picnic, and a bit of advance planning and simple hostess tricks will help you beat the season's unique challenges. By making the buffet as beautiful, streamlined and functional as possible, you and your guests can focus on enjoying the delicious food and fantastic company. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Pre-Packaged Wares

Balancing a napkin and utensils while filling one's plate at a buffet can be a juggling act. To simplify the process for your guests, bundle silverware in napkins that can easily be grabbed. Place them at the end of the buffet instead of at the beginning, or set them at each place setting, so guests don't have to hold as much while they help themselves to food.

Single-Serving Style

One way to make buffet lines efficient is to serve food in individual containers. This requires a bit more prep work but is totally worth it! Guests will breeze through the line, grabbing food as they go rather than dealing with messy serving spoons or tongs. Try this trick for everything from crudite and layered salads to cakes baked in jars.

Easy-to-Moderate Mezze

Plan your menu around foods that can be served at room temperature. It'll be much easier to enjoy the party when you're not worrying about food temperatures, and your buffet will be easier to set up without having to worry about hot plates or coolers. A few of our favorite options include fresh salads, sandwiches and Mediterranean-inspired cold mezze.

A Visual Display

Buffets always look best with some variety in height. Use cake stands, tiered trays or tall vases to add dimension to the display. Or add height to a collection of low serving pieces by using stacked books, vintage crates or overturned buckets as levels. 

Eat the Centerpiece

If you forgo the buffet route and choose to serve family-style food, arrange it all on large trays and set it in the center of the table. This will cut down on back-and-forth trips to the kitchen for replenishment, and it'll serve double duty as an instant, drool-inducing centerpiece.