From the Backyard…
Focus the menu on the tastes of summer. You'll be simmering stews before you know it, so take advantage of warm weather's fresh, all-too-fleeting flavors while you still can, like the grilled shrimp and tomatoes in the skewers, the fresh peaches in the sangria and the berries in the dessert.
Light up the night. When you're this close to home, it's easy to use lighting to set a festive mood for your meal, whether you're perched at a picnic table or on a blanket on the grass. If it's after dark, string white lights or hang Chinese lanterns from the trees overhead, then set votives in glass vases for instant affordable hurricane lamps. For another inexpensive, tropical touch, try tiki torches.
Freshen up with flower power. Cut some blooms from your yard or pick wildflowers on a walk, then arrange them in an empty wine bottle on your table (or in a coffee mug weighted with small stones or dried beans on the bottom to keep it from getting knocked over on a blanket). No flowers to be found? Try a bouquet of basil or a pretty bowl filled with fresh fruit instead.
Think outside the napkin holder. Instead of paper or linen napkins, embrace the summertime vibe by using bandanas. Or play up the picnic theme with colorful checked dishtowel "napkins" instead.
To the Great Outdoors
Take only as much perishable food as you know you can finish. Temperature-sensitive foods like seafood, meat and mayo shouldn't be off the grill or out of the cooler for longer than an hour in hot weather. Best to skip any leftovers altogether and take only enough shrimp and potato salad to feed the number in your party. You can always bring extra provisions that are fine at room (or in this case, outdoor) temperature, like fresh fruit, olives and/or a baguette.
Keep the cooler cool. Chill everything before you put it in the cooler, and surround it with plenty of freezer packs and/or ice. Freeze bottled water to double as extra cold packs and grapes to serve as edible ice cubes for your sangria. Cart the cooler in the interior of the car, not the trunk, and once you get to your destination, leave the cooler in the shade, not baking in direct sunlight.
If you're going to grill at your destination, plan accordingly. Keep raw seafood or meat in a separate cooler if possible; if not, pack them in tightly sealed containers at the bottom to keep juices from leaking onto other foods. And don't leave home without charcoal, lighter fluid, matches, a grill brush, vegetable oil, paper towels and tongs.