A friendly reminder: spring has officially sprung. Call us impatient, but those of us in the wake of frozen hurricanes are ready to dust off our flower boxes while the riding ring thaws, and observe in envy as our southern counterparts hang lush, green ferns from the shed row aisles. Consequently, we are in an embrace-nature-without-insulated-overalls frame of mind, and that includes dining alfresco.

So as we round the bend into a season of warm(er) weather activities, we thought we’d provide a head start on outdoor entertaining with tips from those who have a reputation for doing it well. It might come as no surprise that they all have a connection to the South, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to serve a smidgen of the wit and wisdom that comes from good old-fashioned hospitality in those parts. If you are chomping at the bit to gather around the fire pit, lunch on the lakeshore, picnic at the beach, or tailgate on the rail, these easy ideas are proven hits.

“No time to cook or prepare in advance? Get a pretty platter or a basket with a large, vintage linen napkins and go right to Chick-fil-A and order chicken tenders. Tell everyone it is Grandma’s recipe and wink. Go high/low with a light apéritif, like a Pimm’s Cup. The ‘high’ is with a silver julep cup, a slice of cucumber or dill pickled string beans and lots of shaved ice. Or go ‘low’ and swap the julep cup for a Turvis Tumbler and pickled okra with cubes of ice.”

Fernanda Kellogg (left, with daughter Fernanda and granddaughter Frankie), Millbrook, NY
Fitch’s Corner

“I love anything in a Mason jar. I have dozens of them, in all different sizes. I use the 16-ounce size for specialty cocktails, like a Deep Eddy Ruby Red or Tito’s and soda with lime. The smaller, 8-ounce size I use in place of wine glasses for casual summer entertaining, outdoors or in. I also use the small, 4-ounce jars for yogurt parfaits and granola or cereal at the morning breakfast bar. They’re inexpensive, easy to clean, and dishwasher safe. Mason jars are a fun way to make a regular meal feel a little custom. I even use them as flower vases at the table and in the powder room!”

Kristen Glosserman, New York City
Hill Country Barbecue Market

“Great entertaining involves great people—end of story. I look at any of my parties as salons where you’re meeting artists and talking about their art, why they do what they do, and how they do what they do. For an icebreaker, I like asking everyone what they wore to prom. It’s insightful in a funny way. Moonshine also helps.”

Laura Vinroote Poole, Charlotte, NC
Capitol, Poole Shop, and Tabor

“We’ve gotten our steeplechase party down to a science. We have a standing order with the same company for the tables and tent. I like things to be served on silver because it makes it look nice. We opt for food that is easy to eat throughout the day, and we always decorate with plants because it feels more intimate.”

Frankie Thomas, Aiken, SC
Westcliff Landscape

“Keep the drinks and the guests cool. When entertaining outdoors consider increasing the ice quantities. The rule of thumb is two pounds per person–enough to ice cans, bottles, and Champagne and also clean ice for mixed drinks. Use flowers from the garden. Decorating outdoor tables with foliage from the yard gives the event a warm and well thought out feeling. We like using azaleas and camellias for the flowers mixed with boxwood and Japanese yew. Night lights. We like to bring indoor lamps outside. Two matching antique lamps at each end of a bar or food table really sets a great mood.”

Jim Perrier and Jim Ashbee, New Orleans, LA
Perrier Party Rentals

“It’s all about hats!”

Deirdre Stoker Vaillancourt, Aiken, SC
Meybohm Real Estate

Photos courtesy of: Amber Heintzberger, Milton Mpounas, Ben Gately, Laura Thomas, Jim Ashbee, and Deirdre Stoker Vaillancourt

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