Posted on by Beckworth & Co

Fun Ideas for Hosting an Outdoor Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is the time of year when friends and family traditionally gather for a meal to celebrate and be thankful. In some cities and towns, there are parades during the Thanksgiving weekend and these festivities also mark the opening of the Christmas shopping season.

There is something about celebrating events and festivals outdoors that simply gets us all excited. No matter how awesome your Thanksgiving party already is, it becomes even more special when you take it outside and make nature a part of the festivities. Take advantage of mild fall weather and move your Thanksgiving celebration outdoors this year. Not only will this give you a lot more space, but it will keep those inevitable wine spills to a minimum. Here are some ideas for your Outdoor Thanksgiving dinner.

outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting
outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

Having Thanksgiving dinner outdoors doesn't mean you have to lose all the comfort that your house can provide. It might be even more comfortable considering all the elbow room you’ll have. Just let your guests know in advance about your outdoor plans so they can dress appropriately for the weather. 

Make sure to have cushions for your chairs as these kinds of holiday dinners take a lot longer since it’s not just about the meal. Long wooden benches provide plenty of seating but could be too hard to sit on for long periods of time especially when you’re enjoying each other’s company. A soft throw pillow or blanket cover will make your guests particularly cozy and encourage them to stay a little longer and enjoy the evening. 

A floor-seated Thanksgiving dinner is a great way to bring the comfort of home outside. This allows guests to relax and have fun under the night sky. Sitting down to eat our food makes us humbler and more grounded. It also connects everyone at the table together.

Before the meal, give each guest a gift basket with a throw blanket and comfy outdoor slippers. You can even turn your regular family Thanksgiving dinner into a fantastic Thanksgiving pajama party by handing out jammies to wear. These small details will have a huge impact on your guests’ comfort and will make them feel more at home.

heated outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

If you do live somewhere a bit cold, conquer a chill by firing up a fire pit, outdoor fireplace, chiminea, or propane heater. Not only will this add welcoming warmth and a beautiful golden glow, but crackling flames will also encourage guests to linger a little longer and maybe even indulge in fall's favorite fireside s'mores.

Infrared heating is possibly the most efficient alternative to other heating methods. Unlike other heating solutions, an electric infrared heater only heats surfaces rather than the air around them. So it’ll warm your guests pretty well without affecting the air around them. 

Natural gas patio heaters are often chosen to make use of an existing natural gas line. Natural gas burns cleaner than wood, and patio heaters of this type are easier to maintain than some other options. However, because they’re attached to a natural gas line, they should be professionally installed and are therefore generally more expensive upfront. They are also less portable than other models due to their need to be attached to a gas line.

If you want ambiance, wood-burning patio heaters, fire pits, and chimineas are one of the most affordable options. Like candles and bistro lights, the glow of a fire pit adds visual warmth to your space. It creates a sense of closeness between those who gather around its flames. But the trade-off is more frequent maintenance, as ash and coals should be cleaned out frequently. They are also harder to light and produce sparks and embers, which can be unsafe if left unattended.

women holding thanksgiving dishes

These days Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t always have to be the responsibility of one person. If you’re having a few people over in addition to those already in your household, take the pressure off of yourself by hosting a potluck. You can still keep the menu small. But by hosting a bring-your-own dinner you'll be able to appease everyone's tastes without being left to do all of the cooking or clean-up yourself.

Thanksgiving at a local park with multiple groups of friends, coworkers, or classmates is a great way to enjoy the holiday. The great outdoors provides a lot of space if you live in a small apartment or your backyard is too small to host a large group. And a party potluck-style is excellent in these situations. By assigning meal categories to guests, everyone contributes to the feast and no one is burdened with all the prep and planning.

family thanksgiving dinner under string lights
lighted outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

Extend the evening and keep the party going by making sure your venue is well lit. Enchant your guests with the perfect mood lighting. With the intimate glow of candles on your table, lanterns hung strategically on trees nearby, or multiple string lights above that mimic the stars, a well-lit venue will add depth and drama to your Thanksgiving dinner.

The key is to get enough lighting without overdoing it. You do not need the same level of brightness outside that you might have inside your house. A lot of lighting can actually ruin the mood or enjoyment of your outdoor Thanksgiving dinner.

Candles make great additions to Thanksgiving centerpieces and can help set the mood and provide soft lighting for your dinner table. And while you may light some citronella candles around your patio to ward off pests during your holiday gathering, it is best to opt for flameless, unscented candles for your dinner table. Flameless candles will continue working just fine if the wind picks up and will not spill wax or start a fire if someone knocks one over.

A good, sturdy string light zig-zagged over the dining or entertaining space lays down a great soft, overall light and creates a romantic atmosphere. String lights are not that expensive, it’s an easy way to light the evening. Look for waterproof, rechargeable, traditional battery-powered, or solar-powered outdoor string lights, preferably those with long-lasting LED bulbs. They avoid the need for running extension cords across the yard, enable lighting in far corners of the yard without electrical outlets.

outdoor thanksgiving dinner buffet table setting
outdoor thanksgiving dinner table buffet setting


Another great idea for this Thanksgiving is to keep it casual and free yourself up to mix and mingle by serving buffet style. Just place plates, silverware, and napkins at one end of the spread so guests can help themselves. A buffet Thanksgiving dinner is a great way to make the most of the space you have in a small backyard. Fill an antique sideboard with beautiful white serving dishes, antique silverware, muted greenery, and warm wood accents for an inviting, farmhouse feel.

You can also set up a separate table for dessert so guests can help themselves to a sweet finish to their meal whenever they're ready. 

One thing to consider is food warmers. Since the weather might naturally be a bit chilly, keeping your food warm is vital to a great Thanksgiving dinner. You can still leave some of the colder items on the table like cranberry sauce, salads, etc. along with your rolls. To keep those Thanksgiving bread warm on the table, a festive basket with a linen cloth should do the trick.

child drinking non-alcoholic drink at thanksgiving dinner

Don’t forget about the kids and non-drinkers. They’ll appreciate non-alcoholic offerings like hot or cold tea, juice, coffee, cocoa, and mocktails. Bring beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, outdoors to prevent guests from trekking in and out of the house to grab another drink. Consider setting up a beverage table so guests can easily get refreshments when they get thirsty or need a caffeine boost.

outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting with flowers
man holding flower outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

Centerpieces don't have to be complicated. Fresh-cut backyard blooms will shine as your outdoor centerpiece. For a casual Thanksgiving get-together, you can place a few blooms, in fall shades, in a clear water glass. But if you want a fuller look, create several small arrangements to line the center of the table. Bright dahlias in shades of orange, yellow, red, and pink pair perfectly with golden celosia, while sorrel leaves, ornamental grasses, and cabbages stand in for standard greenery.

Give your flower arrangements a seasonal boost by arranging them inside crafty, organic vases made from pumpkins. To make your own, cut the top off of a pumpkin and scoop out the guts. Insert a jar or small vase inside the hollowed-out pumpkin, then fill it with seasonal blooms and raw cotton stems for an elegant fall farmhouse look.

If you need a quick and easy centerpiece, grab a produce basket and fill it to the brim with gorgeous red apples or other colorful seasonal fruit, like pears or whole cranberries. Mix with pumpkins and grocery store flowers arranged in mason jars for a simple, pretty Thanksgiving tablescape.

fancy outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting
fancy outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

Just because you’re spending Thanksgiving outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t be a little fancy. Don’t be afraid to go glam in your outdoor space. A bit of glitz, like these metallic pumpkins, will contrast beautifully with the existing outdoor elements. When mixed with more muted, natural tones, the glam gourds add striking visual interest.

Don’t get stuck in the basic fall color palette of browns, ambers, and reds. The magic of gold paint never ceases to amaze. And it certainly won't disappoint in your elegant table setting. Get the look by upgrading the pumpkins you have leftover from Halloween with some gold craft paint. Place golden pumpkins with your centerpiece to bring your tablescape to life for daytime events and nighttime events. Keep the rest of your Thanksgiving table decor simple with white china, metallic silverware, and subtly-patterned napkins.

If you're looking for classic Thanksgiving table decor, start with a plaid tablecloth, add an ear of Indian corn at each place, and don't forget the decorative turkey plates. To build an inexpensive runner, gather oak leaves, nuts, and decorative gourds into an organic runner down the center of the table. The entire table took just five minutes to pull together, but this quintessential Thanksgiving decor will leave a lasting impression.

rustic outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

When you’re outdoors it’s hard not to go rustic. Just don’t go overboard. Draw inspiration from the season's flowers, plants, and foliage to create a casual table setting perfect for dining alfresco. With a few cozy and inviting touches, a rustic picnic table becomes a show-stopping setting for a fall dinner party.

Turn a worn-down picnic table into an amazing rustic-themed Thanksgiving table. Cover the table with a tablecloth or a table runner. It can be plaid in the colors of your scheme, it can be neutral and of burlap, or lace for a vintage tablescape. The napkins should be somehow coordinating, they can be of the same fabric or at least come in matching colors and patterns.

friends having outdoor thanksgiving dinner
outdoor thanksgiving dinner beach table setting

For a small family-style outdoor Thanksgiving, consider a destination picnic. Bring along a picnic basket, filled with your family's favorite dishes, and a few decorative items to dress up the table to better suit nature’s beautiful backdrop.

You can still have the traditional feast you used to have. Holiday or not, any outdoor dining experience is improved by a gorgeous view. Place your table in a location that benefits from amazing views, then soak in the fantastic fall foliage while you dig into your favorite side dish of choice.

Thanksgiving by the beach is another great way to spend the holiday. Families can switch up their travel plans with a little bit of sun, sand, and surf to enjoy the ultimate Thanksgiving getaway in the privacy of their own beach vacation rental home. You can replace the traditional roasted turkey with wonderful fresh seafood dishes to match the scene. Enjoy the cool breeze, the smell of the ocean, and the ambient sound of the waves coming in. From one-of-a-kind experiences to remarkable waterfront dining, there are many reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving in the sand.

outdoor thanksgiving dinner table setting

Want to switch up the Thanksgiving food lineup? Try Thanksgiving brunch or lunch instead. This works especially well for workers who won't be able to be home with the family for dinner or for families with kids who'll be all tired out by evening. Your menu can consist of easy-to-make items that still feel festive, like French toast, omelets, bacon, or sausage, or you can go all out and make your regular holiday lineup. You’ll just need to do it ahead of time. Whichever option you choose, you can create a satisfying brunch menu that will cater to everyone on your guest list.

Many families have holiday meals much earlier in the day than their typical dinners, and this is a particularly effective strategy for the fall and winter holidays. Starting early allows you to take advantage of having more daylight and a higher temperature, since once the sun dips below the horizon, the temperature can drop rather quickly, and those shorter days give way to the dark of night.

friends having outdoor thanksgiving dinner

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