Going Alfresco? A Refresher on Outdoors Etiquette

Photos by Kathryn Barker

Have you been invited to a pool party or barbecue? Going on a picnic? Heading for the lake as a guest on a boat? Grab that tote, throw in the sunscreen, mosquito repellent, hand sanitizer/wipe-ups, towels, and you’re ready to roll.

Wait, wait, wait … don’t forget your manners. Just because you’ll be alfresco doesn’t mean you need to be etiquette-less.

A few reminders:

Ask what you can bring. The host of a picnic or barbecue might have a specific theme or menu in mind. If you’re hosting, be sure to have suggestions ready. A dear friend of ours said, “Please just tell me what to bring. I’m willing to make anything, if someone will give me an idea. I hate having to think up something.”

Getting the corn ready is a family affair at our ranch...

Of course, it helps to know your peeps … some like to surprise everyone with the latest gourmet dip. (See the The Pioneer Woman’s Fresh Corn Salsa my daughter made for our last pool party.)

Bring your food ready to serve, unless it’s absolutely necessary to prepare it right before serving. Don’t impose on your hostess the need for space and tools. Some kitchens are small and it’s hard to move around or find implements with the “hang out and visit” crowd hovering about (think kitchen galley on a boat). It’s also nice to bring the serving utensils necessary for your particular dish: a big spoon or salad tongs. Others might have forgotten and the hostess may not have enough extras for everyone.

Hint: Label your utensils and dishes in case you forget them when you leave. Your host can easily identify the owner. I once discovered a casserole dish … two years later … that I had left at a 4-H potluck. If I’d labeled it, someone could have contacted me.

Be generous; bring enough for your family and more to share. A family of five arriving with a solitary bag of chips looks suspiciously like “mooching.”

If you have special dietary needs, bring what you need; don’t expect others to know. And make enough for others to sample. My mother, in her octogenarian years, has become a vegetarian. Fortunately, she isn’t finicky and there’s an abundance of whatever she’s cooked up.

Ask if you can come a little early to help set up or offer to stay and help clean up. Extra hands make the workload lighter. I especially love hosting an event when I know my grown children will be there. They read my mind and are experts at sensing what needs to be done. Could be because we spent so many years working together on the ranch – you have to anticipate what comes next – not a lot of time for explanations and verbal communication when there’s a herd of cows needing immediate attention.

Be mindful of how much you pile on your plate; there is someone in line behind you. You can always go back for seconds.

And for goodness sake, no double dipping! Put that dip on your plate and scoop from there. Help your children learn and practice the no double dipping rule.

For water events, bring your own towels. Your host probably has a few extras, but maybe not enough for everyone.

If the event isn’t at home or in a designated picnic area, please bring trash bags and clean up your area.

    Of course, in public settings or at a friend’s home, please:

  1. Limit your alcohol consumption.
  2. Keep from imposing your music on neighboring outdoor enthusiasts.
  3. Refrain from using foul language.
  4. Be sure to thank your host before leaving. A handwritten thank-you note after the event is much appreciated.

And if your mind isn’t reeling with Do’s and Do Not’s, check out this video clip for some hints I haven’t mentioned:

Happy outdoor living!

Kathryn Barker has never met a child, a tea, or a baby animal she didn’t love. With her sweet husband of 43 years, she has raised three extraordinary children, doctored all manner of farm animal, driven a team of horses, made soap, spun wool and opened a tea room. An avid photographer, Kathryn has had tea in a ger in Mongolia, viewed the Three Gorges Dam in China and waved to the Queen of England. She maintains a tea booth at the Oregon St. Antique Mall. Visit her at tea4kate.com or on Facebook and Twitter at tea4kate.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Kathryn Barker has never met a child, a tea, or a baby animal she didn’t love. With her Sweet Husband of 43 years, she has: raised three extraordinary children, doctored all manner of farm animal, driven a team of horses, made soap, spun wool and opened a tea room. An avid photographer, Kathryn has had tea in a ger in Mongolia, viewed the Three Gorges Dam in China and waved to the Queen of England. She maintains a tea booth at the Oregon St. Antique Mall. Visit her at www.tea4kate.com or on Facebook and Twitter at tea4kate.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    Well . . . . it's about time some codified out door etiquette. There are some folks who need this tattooed on the inside of their eyelids!!! Oh, present company excepted, of course. Especially important: LABLE YOUR UTENSILS AND SERVING DISHES!!! And the one about policing your area, even in a private home . . . . ESPECIALLY in a private home.

    TANX . . . .

    • Avatar Kate says:


      Thanks for your comment….tattooed on eyelids? LOL…Ouch, ouch….you have some strong feelings about this subject! Have a great summer!

  2. Avatar Jan Winje says:

    Hear, hear, Kate! So sad that you have to remind us of our manners. I'd like to add a little something – PLEASE don't allow your children to poke around in dishes with their grubby little fingers?

  3. Avatar Natalie says:

    Hi Kate – Great article! I'm never too old to be reminded of proper etiquette, especially since seniors seem to get invited to potlucks all the time, and we love getting new recipes.

    • Avatar Kate says:

      Thank you Natalie. I love a "refresher" now and then too…we all tend to get a little casual…just human nature I think. I like to try new recipes, but learned the hard way….make it at least once before you take it anywhere.

  4. I loved this Kate! Good reminders – I think I've broken a few of these rules (arrived straight from the grocery store with my food still to prepare – ack!). Enjoyed this and happy summer!

    • Avatar Kate says:

      Oh Cindy, I've been there too… those times when I just couldn't help it…hopefully we have friends willing to extend a little grace! Enjoy your summer.

  5. Avatar Karen C says:

    Ouch, arriving to a party and have to prepare the food there. The reason a hostess asks folks to bring something is to assist her with her the tasks. Not clutter up her kitchen. I've had family members from out of town stop when arriving in Redding, to buy the ingredients. Then come into my kitchen and create chaos, asking me where this or that is located. That is not nice. Prepare what you are to bring at home. Pack it correctly and bring it to the party ready to go. Your efforts will be very much appreciated.

  6. Avatar Kate says:


    Good advice. Sometimes if I have to stop to purchase something, I buy it already prepared…Deli's are great for this! There is always so much commotion in a kitchen. The only time I don't really mind, is if it's someone who knows where things are, like my daughters!