Pick a theme
Have you always wanted to host a barbecue?Assigning a theme to the occasion sets the tone and the mood. For example, you can make it a Western party. Stage a cookout complete with Texas barbecue, bandana napkins, and country music. Or make it a spaghetti western party with a Sergio Leone video in the background. Serve pasta with red sauce, breadsticks, and Chianti on a colorful checkered tablecloth.
Choose a unique location
An outdoor site provides the best party atmosphere, but sometimes you want to take a traditional backyard party to the next level. A public park can be a welcome change as a stage for celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or a personal triumph. Kids and grownups alike will love a graduation party at the zoo. Feeling ambitious? Throw a romantic party on the water aboard a yacht or sailboat.
Weather-proof your party
Outdoor events require a little creative planning when it comes to protecting yourself from the weather. Erect a tent or a temporary overhang to foil unexpected showers. Set up colorful market umbrellas for shade on a hot, sunny day. And if your party rages into the night, you'll need lights. Candles, hurricane lamps, or tiki torches all fit the bill smartly. For rustic or out-of-the-way locations, rent portable toilets, and bring food, camp chairs, and blankets for sitting on.
Address safety issues
Safety should always be a concern, especially in summer. Make sure you or one of your guests knows basic first aid (as everyone should). Keep plenty of water and ice on hand so everyone stays hydrated, especially kids and pets. Stick with plastic or metal dishes and glassware for the sake of those walking around barefoot.
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Craft enticing invites
A handcrafted invitation makes guests feel as though the fun has already started, and writing them yourself does wonders for your brain. Use the invitation to introduce the theme. If you're having a garden party, glue dried flowers onto handwritten invitations or preprinted cards. For a backyard luau or other tropical-theme event, use oversized price tags and tie the tags to a pair of children's inexpensive sunglasses. For a pool party, write invites on fun items you can mail, like kids' floaties.
Choose summery decor
Whether you're hosting a sit-down dinner in your garden or a tailgate party in a parking lot, festive decorations can transform the party without breaking your budget. They can be as simple as brightly colored tablecloths, utensils, and glassware, or more intricate DIY crafts. When in doubt, use Pinterest for inspiration.
Know the power of flowers
Still need help decorating? Call a florist. Florists' capabilities go far beyond arranging flowers in vases. They can work with greenery and props to help you set the stage (and tables and chairs and tent) with an aesthetic that fits your theme.
Get your garden party-ready
Turning a neglected yard into a pretty space can seem like an overwhelming—and expensive—task. Enlist your family or friends to help turn your yard into a vibrant party spot without breaking your back or your bank account. The simplest solution: Give your lawn and shrubs a cut. It may not sound like much, but a trim can make a huge difference. Then set out new flowers and plants still in their nursery pots to fill in bare spots in the yard.
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Hire a party rental service
Large outdoor events usually call for rented tables and chairs—even linens. If you're hosting a large crowd, use a party rental service. For a reasonable fee, these firms can supply virtually everything you need, from china, flatware, and coffee urns to barbecue grills, table linens, and crystal beverage pitchers. Rental businesses are especially handy for obtaining things you really don't need to own, like a portable dance floor. Many companies will set up and break down anything you rent, and launder linens as part of the rental (or for an additional fee).
Hit restaurant supply stores
Often the best party gear lurks in places other than your local stores, as long as you know when and where to look. One terrific place to shop for everything from baking pans to aprons is restaurant supply stores. There you'll find specialized, professional-quality equipment, frequently at discount prices. A trip to a secondhand store, thrift shop, or a garage sale can be a host's nirvana. You might find china, silver, and glassware treasures that can embellish your household long after your guests have departed. Other places you should consider: Asian shops, for woks and rice cookers, and Hispanic markets, for piñatas, festive Mexican pottery, or sturdy glasses.
Make bartending easy
The bar can be the busiest place at a party, and if you're the bartender, that means more work than play. Hire a local college student at an hourly rate, and have your bartender focus on one special kind of drink—martinis, microbrews, drinks for health-conscious guests, fresh-fruit smoothies, whipped up in a blender—to cut down on complexity. Some bar ideas:
- A wheelbarrow makes an ideal cooler that can be moved easily. Just fill it with ice, load up the bottles and cans of your favorite drinks, and roll it to the perfect location.
- Dress up an ordinary tin bucket with Hawaiian ti leaves or palm fronds. Hold the leaves in place with decorative raffia or twine.
- Offer your guests pitchers of luscious infused spirits made with fresh berries or citrus fruits marinated in vodka or tequila.
Your setting can be the inspiration for activities that burn calories while you party. Host a desert-island theme party at the beach or hold a sandcastle-building contest. Stage a mountain-bike rally at a park in the hills and enjoy a little competition among friends before savoring a hearty picnic. To salute friends en route to Hawaii, surprise them with hula dancers and lessons for all after the show. For an outdoor children's party, kids respond to anything that's new and fun. Hire a clown, a magician, or a troupe of puppeteers to perform for the afternoon. Or give them more hands-on experience. Find an origami artist who can show them how to fold paper animals, or a dance instructor to lead a square dance or tango.
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Plan a no-fuss menu
Set up pretty but practical tablescapes
Once you've mastered table setting etiquette, make the table visually exciting by adding risers. Simply arrange phone books or upended cake pans on the table, disguise them with fabric, and surround them with greens, flowers or potted plants, candles, even whole fruits and vegetables. To minimize kitchen duty, arrange foods on serving dishes as far in advance as you can. Wrap the finished platters or bowls in plastic to prevent spoiling and spills, and to discourage sampling by two- or four-legged taste testers. Keep the food from touching the wrap by inserting toothpicks in the corners and in the center of the food, then lay the plastic wrap on top of the toothpicks so it falls over the sides.
Minimize post-party cleanup
The aftermath of a party always includes a few complex cleaning tasks, but they're all manageable. Here are some common situations and solutions for each:
- Candle wax: When votive candles stick to their holders, put them, holders and all, in the freezer for 20 minutes, then pop each candle out by gently tapping the holder on the countertop.
- Wineglasses: For spotless glasses, wash them using warm (not hot) soapy water, rinse in hot water, set right side up for five minutes on a towel-covered counter, then invert the glasses and let them sit a minute or two before drying them all with a cotton dish towel.
- Oversize pots and pans: If they're too large for the dishwasher or the kitchen sink, wash large pots in the bathtub.