Entertaining alfresco has never been cooler since it's far safer than sharing indoor space during the pandemic. These cozy, safety-first tips will make your next gathering even cooler.

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Summer beach bonfire with sparks flying around
Credit: AndrisBarbans/Getty Images

Have you noticed how much more popular restaurant patio dining, backyard picnics, outdoor exercise, and homegating have become since pandemic-related shutdowns have eased? There's a scientific reason for that: Coronavirus cases are nearly 19 times more likely to be transmitted in indoor spaces than outdoor ones, according to one Japanese study.

As we ease into fall, though, it's going to be more challenging to catch up with small groups of friends and family safely since the sun is setting earlier and temps are beginning to dip. Enter: The firepit party.

With this strategy, you can still share a meal or round of drinks outdoors while staying safely-distant — keeping toasty and warm all the while. Here are seven tips that will help you steer clear of germs while sharing a scrumptious and spirited firepit fête.

Note: Check with your city and state rules and declarations for any burn bans or restrictions on using an outdoor fireplace or firepit. Be sure to practice good fire safety, and keep an extinguisher handy at all times.

KINGSO 36" Fire Pit Outdoor Large Steel Wood Burning Fire Pits
Credit: Amazon

Buy it: KINGSO 36-inch Wood-Burning FirePit Bowl and Barbecue Grill ($169.99, amazon.com)

1. Invite wisely.

Of course, the safest plan of all would be to include just your immediate household to this fall dinner party. But if you're planning the gathering to connect with a separate group, choose just one household at a time. This will reduce the risk of potentially spreading the virus to large webs of extended family, classmates, or co-workers. Only invite as many people as can fit sitting six feet or more apart around the firepit. It's wise to measure ahead of time, if possible, to place chairs or cushions accordingly.

2. Create your own mask mandate.

Provide disposable face masks ($9.98 for 50, amazon.com) for guests, or ask everyone to bring their own to wear as they enter and depart from the firepit, any time they're indoors (say, to use the restroom) and any time they're within six feet of others. It's even safer to slip the face mask back on when not eating or drinking, if possible. (Bonus: This will keep faces warmer and less wind-blown.)

3. Supply plenty of sanitizer.

As a gift at entry and a "favor" of sorts to take home, stock up on mini bottles of hand sanitizer ($12.49 for four 1-ounce bottles, amazon.com). Or keep big dispensers nearby, including at the entry and exit and on any dining tables that might be used. It's also wise to keep disinfectant wipes or spray on-hand for tidying up during and after the gathering.

4. Accessorize to make the environment even cozier.

Ask guests to BYOB (bring your own blanket). Since guests will be spaced at least six feet apart, consider jazzing up the setting so it feels less sparse. Fill in gaps by scattering around plants, extra throw blankets, or other outdoor decorating pieces like flower pots, bird feeders, or seasonal statues. Turn an empty space that would feel methodical — with spots separated by six feet — into a warm and cozy spot everyone feels drawn to enjoy.

5. Upgrade and make it a movie night.

If the firepit, food, drink, and conversation alone aren't entertainment enough, string up a sheet at a safe distance from the fire and use a projector ($129.99, amazon.com) to broadcast a film to light up the night after sunset.

6. Shake up your drink menu.

Warm apple cider and hot chocolate are great for the kids and those abstaining from alcohol. For the 21-and-over crowd, instead of basic beer or wine, try a hot cocktail like a:

7. Keep the food casual.

Small businesses could use our support now more than ever — you have our full permission to order pizza delivery or takeout from your favorite local spot. Or keep things low-key since you'll be far from the kitchen with one of these easy ideas: