How to Throw an Outdoor Party in a Pinch

August 18, 2016

The Penna Family from SalonCapri love to entertain and they don’t shy away from hosting their friends and family at a moment’s notice, especially when the weather forecast calls for sunny skies.  With the vision and creativity of event designer and styling expert, Emily Starr Alfano from mStarr Design, Nick and Amy Penna’s backyard was turned into a lovely setting for an outdoor picnic-type party, complete with gourmet finger foods and fun details that guests will notice (and love!).

Creative Director Emily Starr Alfano has been running her own business, mStarr Design, for four years and she’s hired to plan and set the stage for special events ranging from large outdoor weddings to intimate luncheons and even editorial spreads. Her ability to curate and style items to create beautiful settings is a true talent (just look at her Instagram feed).

So what is Emily’s advice for pulling together a beautiful outdoor party setting?  Get the inspirational scoop below…


What are your Top 4 tips for creating the perfect entertaining set-up outdoors with limited time to plan?

1. Keep it simple! Good food, good drink, good company. That’s really all you need.

2. Invest in some wood and marble bowls and cutting boards and white platters for a chic presentation. They go with anything! HomeGoods is my go-to spot for affordable, great looking and varied options.

3. Keep some cute paper plates (like any of these!) and disposable wood cutlery on hand. It eliminates the stress of doing the dishes after hosting!

4. If you can’t get to the store or flower shop, forage! Chances are your yard or neighborhood is full of whimsical greenery or beautiful flowers. Grab your clippers and snip away!

5. It doesn’t have to be a sit-down affair! Set up a buffet of sorts and call it a day.

What are some of your favorite details that you always try to incorporate to make a party scene pop?

You don’t have to go too crazy but you want some special details to make your guests feel welcomed and special. I always try to incorporate some type of greenery or florals, beautiful but simple displays (like slicing different color heirloom tomatoes to lay out on a wood board), and an interesting detail (in this case, wrapping the cutlery in linen napkins tied with twine).


What are your favorite places to pick up food and décor for an at-home party?

I love grabbing fruits, veggies, bread and flowers at my local farmer’s market but often shop at Whole Foods and Roche Bros as well. Hit up your local ice cream shop for dessert everyone will love! As for decor and goods, Target and Home Goods are a perpetual in-person favorite and online, I often hit up Etsy and Food52. Also, Amazon Prime is a go-to for pretty much anything that you may need at the last minute (invest in a prime membership for 1-2 day shipping!).


And what’s the key to being the perfect party host? Here’s what Nick and Amy Penna recommend when it comes to hosting a party that both you and your guests will enjoy…


What are three things that you think make a great gathering?

Our three must-haves are good music, plenty of wine and, of course, great company.


What are your go-to appetizers, entrees and desserts you like to serve while entertaining at your home?

For appetizers, we always have a good cheese platter on display with grapes and charcuterie, which is easy to prep.  Nick’s avocado toast is also always a hit and is easy to make: mashed up ripe avocados with lime juice spread onto a slice of toasted bread, topped with sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, some parsley and sprinkled with paprika and Himalayan sea salt.

For dinner, we like to serve a delicious pasta dish, paired with anything that can be put on the grill, like chicken thighs seasoned with herbs.  Dessert is usually fresh berries, whipped cream and mint sprig garnishes.

Favorite alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to serve?

Moscow mules are refreshing on a hot day and look cool served in copper mugs. For non-alcoholic drinks, we like to serve homemade pink lemonade and any flavor of Polar brand seltzer waters.


What is your secret to having the ultimate party playlist?

We’ve been into The Wood Brothers’ playlist on Pandora recently. A great party playlist should be background music that people can still hum along to while listening. You can also never go wrong with a little reggae.

As the hostess, how do you make sure all of your guests are engaged and having a good time?

Always try to make sure everyone stays well hydrated and well fed!

E-vite or snail mail invitations?

E-mail! It’s the quick and easy way to reach everyone, especially if the party date is decided somewhat last-minute.

In your opinion, what is the best way to serve your guests: plated or family style?

We like to prepare a sit-down dinner if we can but if we’re entertaining in the summer, we’ll set up a buffet for guests to serve themselves.

Do you let the kids participate in the party?

Our kids are always a part of our entertaining. As a part of our Italian culture, family is really important to us, so we include them in everything. Instead of having a kids table, we encourage them to dine with us. But, when it gets too late for them to be up, they go to sleep as the party continues later into the night.


Having a party is a big job and at the end of the night cleaning up can be a drag. What tips can you give you give to make the process less daunting?

We try to get all the food-prep done in the morning so all of those dishes are ready to go before the party even starts. Throughout the party, we put all of the dirty dishes directly into the sink (or throw away any disposable items!). You want to enjoy your party, not spend the entire time working, so we tackle the dishes and the majority of the clean-up at the end of the night.



Photographer: Christopher Padgett

Styling: mStarr Design

Glassware: HomeGoods

Disposable Wood Utensils: Target

Marble Paper Plates: Oh Happy Day Shop

Canopy + pillows: World Market

Pouf: Target

Rattan Stools: IKEA



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