A Guide to Hosting an Outdoor Thanksgiving


With October and Halloween behind us, it’s time to start planning for Thanksgiving. This year, do something a bit unexpected. Instead of stuffy dining rooms and overheated kitchens, consider bringing your Thanksgiving into the great outdoors.

Here in Central Virginia, we are often graced with beautiful weather on Thanksgiving. These comfortable temperatures and sunny skies allow us to bring our holiday celebrations onto our porches, patios, and backyards. Not only does this add a little fresh air to the feast, but an outdoor Thanksgiving also gives you and your guests plenty of room to move around, as well as the opportunity to innovate and experiment with your traditions.

A successful dinner party always starts with a good plan. Because an outdoor party features a few extra challenges and obstacles, a thoughtful plan is an absolute must.  If you are considering hosting Thanksgiving in your outdoor living area, here are some fantastic tips for creating an unforgettable experience.


1. Have a backup plan


Even in our currently divided culture, there are two things that most everyone can agree upon:

1 – Mother Nature is unpredictable.

2 – Weather Forecasters are the only people that get paid to be wrong every day.

To sum up, always have a backup plan.



2. Add Festive Décor


This is not just another meal you are hosting. This is Thanksgiving! Add to your guests’ experience by setting a truly autumnal scene.


Create a Walkway

Create a Walkway

Lead your guests to the dinner table with a pumpkin-lined path. It gives the space a special seasonal touch that will elevate the experience for friends and family.





Create a Weather-Proof CenterpieceCreate a Weather-Proof Centerpiece

Your centerpiece should be styled with items that won’t blow away in the breeze. The obvious choice is pumpkins, which can hold other accessories like leaves and branches in place. Or create a chic planter with late fall produce like lettuce or cabbage plants.





Line the Steps

Line the Stairs

Just as you do with your front entryway, provide guests with an enjoyable path up and down the stairs.






Dress Up Your Features

Whether it’s your Outdoor Kitchen, Pillars, Fire Pit or Outdoor Fireplace, get them involved with the party and use them to help set the mood.





Add Pillows and Throws

Rich-hued pillows and wool tartan throws keep things casual, cozy, and, above all, autumnal. Along with helping to set the mood, pillows and blankets have the bonus of keeping guests comfortable.





Bring the Inside Out

Bring the Inside Out

If the weather is good enough to entertain outdoors, you should have no concern in temporarily using decor that is made for the indoors. Just be sure to bring items inside at the end of the gathering; this is a great task for children and any guests that thoughtfully ask to help.






Click Here for Tips to Control Your Decor Costs




3. Add Warming Elements


Even the prettiest of November days is bound to be chilly at times, especially once the sun goes down. It’s important to be prepared in a variety of ways.


Throws and Blankets



In addition to being the perfect autumn decor, as outlined above, throws and blankets are your first line of defense against a chilly breeze. Bring out and borrow as many as you can, because people will fight over blankets, even on Thanksgiving.


Start a Fire



Tis the season of fire features. The scent of burning logs, the sound of crackling embers and the glow of amber flames are all essential to setting the autumn mood. Whether it’s a built-in structure or temporary, moveable piece, fire is essential for setting the mood and keeping warm.


Space Heaters


If you have an outdoor living space, an outdoor space heater (or 2 or 3) is a great investment. These features add countless hours of enjoyment to your space and are becoming more attractive and affordable every year. If you’re not ready to make the investment for your party, consider renting one from a local company like Rental Works.



4. Lighting is Key


Enchanted meals truly depend upon the magic of lighting. Varying the intensity and source of illumination will add depth and drama to your party site.


String and Bistro Lights

String and Bistro lights always create an enjoyable ambiance and are very versatile in application; lights can be strung on pergolas, arbors, pavilions, and surrounding trees. If properly planned, this is a low-cost investment that will have a great impact on your outdoor living space.



If the winds are calm, consider placing candles throughout the space, including interspersed with flowers and gourds on a festive table. Also, if there is a stronger breeze, avoid the hassle and use battery-operated options (like we did in our photoshoot).


Low Voltage Lighting

When planning an Outdoor Living Space, proper lighting is important not to overlook. A well-designed combination of up-lights, path lights, and wall lights will provide a beautifully balanced ambiance to your space. Additionally, lights highlighting steps and areas of egress increase the safety of your space, especially for older family members and friends.















5. Plan Your Seating and Serving



Formal Dining Table

One of the quintessential images of Thanksgiving is a long table lined with family and friends. Furniture companies now make outdoor extension tables that are perfect for large gathers like Thanksgiving. If your outdoor table does not seat enough people (and you do not want to purchase a new one), consider bringing your indoor dining table outside. Indoor furniture provides a unique look when used outdoors





Casual, Buffet-Style

If you are expecting more guests than can fit at one table, try a more casual, buffet-style Thanksgiving. Establish a serving area and make sure there is enough seating throughout your outdoor living space. Make sure to utilize the variety of options your Outdoor Living Space provides, including dining tables, bar-top seating, chaise lounges, loveseats and sofas, Adirondack chairs, bistro tables, and sitting walls.





Establish a Serving Area

Whether you’re hosting a casual, buffet-style meal or you just need a place for dessert, it’s important to have a serving area planned out.  Instead of taking up space with another table, consider using one of your outdoor features. Outdoor kitchen counters and bar-top seating areas are obvious choices. If you want to keep food warm, a fire feature might provide the solution; a fireplace hearth and the brim of a fire pit both provide ample, heated space. If your outdoor living space does not include any of these features, consider pillars and sitting walls.



Sitting Walls

Speaking of sitting walls, don’t forget to factor them into your planning. If formal seating gets tight, don’t be afraid to utilize your built-in options. When cleaning your space before company arrives, be sure to take the time to wipe down the top of your walls. Also, consider putting out some pillows, cushions, and blankets to help soften the walls.




Dessert by the Fire

As the meal winds down and the sun begins to set, the November air will likely bring a chill. What better way to end a Thanksgiving meal than dessert by a cozy fire?  A slice of pie warmed by the fire will taste like it’s fresh out of the oven. Stock up on marshmallows, chocolate bars, and gram crackers to start a new Thanksgiving S’mores tradition. With a crackling fire and delicious desserts, your guests will likely want to hang around for a while, so be sure to have plenty of pillows and throws available to make keep them comfortable.





6. Bring the TV Outdoors


Outdoor technologies like televisions and sound systems have truly revolutionized the use of Outdoor Living Spaces. Adding an Outdoor Television to your space ensures that your guests won’t miss a snap of the Thanksgiving football games. At Outdoor Dreams, we trust the fantastic staff at LiveWire with all our outdoor television and audio installations.






7. Keep Everyone Entertained


Football is not for every adult and children may need numerous activities to keep them entertained. Instead of trying to react in the moment and come up with ideas on the fly, plan out some options ahead of time that will peak a variety of interests.


Burn Some Calories

Be sure to provide yard games for your guests to play during pre-dinner cocktails or to work off that second (or third) plate. Corn hole, croquet, horseshoes, and touch football are always a hit.





Creative Crafting

Pinterest is full of fun ideas that are enjoyable for children of all ages. If your kids tend to get hungry, but don’t like adult appetizers, consider tasking kids with making “Blessing Mix” (See our write up here). This is a fun and tasty craft that can help teach kids (and some adults) the meaning and importance of Thanksgiving.




Carve Pumpkins

(It’s Not Just for Halloween Anymore)

No matter your age, carving pumpkins is a fun activity and at Outdoor Dreams, we believe it’s a shame to only do it once a year. Thanksgiving pumpkin carving is a growing trend and, if you need proof, a quick internet or Pinterest search will provide the evidence. Away from the main entertaining areas, prepare a carving station with a few pre-printed patterns and carving knives. With everything set up outside, you’ll be able to let the kids have a blast and make a mess with those pumpkin guts!




8. Utilize Outdoor Cooking Methods


One of the biggest headaches of preparing Thanksgiving has always been lack of enough oven space for the numerous dishes and desserts. Hosting an Outdoor Thanksgiving should encourage you to use cooking methods other than the oven. This year consider cooking your turkey and ham on the grill or smoker. Grilled vegetables are also a delicious consideration. And be sure to utilize your grill or outdoor kitchen burners that are perfect for side dishes, sauces and warming drinks like apple cider.


Click Here to learn about Grilling and Smoking your Thanksgiving Turkey







9. Keeping Food Warm


Keeping food warm outdoors in November can be a challenge if you’re not prepared.


Utilize Dishes with a Lid

The simple and most obvious solution is to use serving dishes that have a lid. All this requires is 5-10 minutes of planning. Don’t wait until the last minute when you’re stressed and scrambling for the nearest dish that is big enough.


Have Tinfoil Ready

Not all dishes come with lids and sometimes you just want to show off a specific serving plate. If you have a fresh roll of tinfoil ready to go, keeping these dishes covered is not a problem. Also, if you plan, you can even have properly sized sheets of tinfoil prepared and ready to use.


Disposable Chafing Dishes

Consider purchasing disposable chafing dishes. There are many inexpensive options available and no clean up is required! Additionally, disposable chafing dishes make great to-go containers for guests that insist on stealing your leftovers.


Use the Grill Like an Oven

When dining inside, we often stick food in an oven to keep it warm. There is no reason that you cannot use your grill the same way! Keep the grill at a low temperature and make sure you have your oven mitts nearby.


Carve the Turkey Tableside

Even when dining inside, the meat will get cold if you carve it long before your guests sit down to eat. Whether inside or out, consider covering your turkey tableside. This will keep your meat warm and add to everyone’s enjoyment. Dinner and a show!





10. Consider Renting

(If the budget allows)


Unless you’re an avid entertainer, seating and place settings might become an issue if your Thanksgiving is a large gathering. Instead of buying card tables, folding chairs or additional place settings (all of which will eventually or immediately become a storage nightmare), consider renting what you need. Make a few quick calls to local party rental companies to see if it’s in your budget. As a bonus, many rental companies insist on washing their dishes! Can you even put a price on not doing the dishes after Thanksgiving dinner?!?




All staging designed and implemented by Catherine Heleniak


All photography shot and edited by Becky Rees



About The Author

Mike Newberger

1 Comment

Leave a Reply