The weather is crisp, the leaves are changing, and Mother Nature is at her absolute most beautiful - what better time to host an alfresco dinner party? The pandemic is still top of mind, so outdoors and safely distanced is the way to go. We only have a few weeks to take advantage of outdoor dining before the seasons change, so let's get planning! No matter the size of your guest list, planning for group parties is no easy task. Luckily for you, planning, especially when it comes to  is our forte, and we've compiled a complete list of everything you should be thinking about when planning fall dinner parties. 

Plan Ahead

Start planning your menu at least a week ahead of time, because there's lots to do. Between considering the preferences and dietary restrictions of your guests, shopping for your ingredients, pairing beverages and considering for the final meal plating/presentation, there's lots to do, and you don't want to leave it to the last minute! These days, everyone has some sort of dietary restriction. Thoughtful hosts will consider these preferences and build them into the menu. Even simple gestures like planning a bean burger for your vegetarian friend will go a lot way – and trust us, they won't go unnoticed.  In our opinion, the perfect dinner menu includes some sort of appetizer, a main course, a desert, and a special cocktail to really delight your guests. Consider nature's bounty when planning your menu. In the fall, there are so many lettuces and squashes in season. These veggies will add variety and seasonality to your menu, and they'll add a fun pop of color to your table! Root your menu in season vegetables and work your way out, starting with the main course.  Three courses is a lot to prepare, so consider asking your guests to bring drinks and dessert. 

Consider your Setting

Once your menu is set, consider your table before rushing out to shop.  Details like cozy candles, fresh flowers and name tags really add an extra special touch to a fall table. Don't feel any pressure to go overboard when it comes to setting the table, but a few small touches won't go unnoticed.  In addition to what's on the table, consider what's around the table. If you're dining outdoors, there are a lot of elements to consider. With the days getting shorter, it may get dark before you're done eating. Consider your plan for lighting – we love a set of string lights on a patio. Also consider food safety and serving when planning your surroundings. Will you serve the meal family style or buffet style? Is there anything on your menu that shouldn't be left outdoors for too long (think sushi or soft cheeses)? If so, consider serving these items first then putting them away for the main event. 

Prep Your Meal Ahead of Time

As the big day approaches, don't let your stringent planning practices slip. The last thing you want is to be stressed on the day of your party. Ask yourselves what ingredients can be prepped ahead to make cooking easier on day of the event. Perhaps you can pre-chop some vegetables or make a side dish a day or two in advance.  Meal prepping for large parties will make your life so much easier, and your cooking experience will be more enjoyable and less stressful overall. Consider  as your go-to party planning companion. It includes 45+ tools and features for mise en place meal prep all in one unit so everything from planning to cleanup will be streamlined and easy. Plus, when you upgrade to , you'll get a subscription to New York Times cooking to help inspire your perfect menu! By the time your guests start to arrive, all you should be thinking about is opening a bottle of wine and enjoying their company. Prepping ahead will allow you to do just that!

Don't Forget the Extras

When it comes to fall entertaining, the devil's in the details. Don't forget to consider thoughtful extras that will make your party memorable for years to come. If the weather begins to cool before the evening is over, consider making blankets available on the backs of chairs to keep your guests warm. Or better yet, get a fire going. This allows you to make dessert into a fun (and warm) activity – DIY s'mores! And don't forget about music! Be sure to think about your playlist ahead of time so you're not scrambling hours before guests arrive.  Follow these planning tips and your fall feats will be sure to go off without a hitch! With the holidays coming up, there are definitely some ideas to borrow when you start planning large family gatherings. Happy fall, from our table to yours!