When I think of summer I imagine cool salty breezes on bright sunny days infused with the scent of cocoa butter. I close my eyes and can hear the sounds of splashing and laughter, while visualizing myself lounging poolside with a tropical drink in hand. I anticipate balmy evenings spent on the patio with family and friends surrounded by candlelit lanterns, good food, great music and lively conversation…
And now it’s here!
Summer is the time to relax and just have fun. The same is true for when it comes to planning your outdoor parties. Regardless, if it’s a simple get together with some friends or a huge blowout where every extended family member comes stampeding in from all corners of the country, it CAN be relaxing and fun. The secret is in the prep! Good planning is essential to ensuring the best stress free time for you and your guests.
Keep it Simple
First decide on the occasion and how many people you are expecting. If it’s involving a summer celebration such as birthday, anniversary celebration or the Fourth of July, much of your set-up will already be determined. If it’s a casual gathering to enjoy cocktails with several friends around a fire pit, this also decides a lot for you. Time of day is, of course, a huge factor and will change your approach due to the differences in temperature and lighting. Will there be food and grilling going on? How many kids will be enjoying the great outdoors (and perhaps, pool) with you? So much for keeping it simple! Now don’t panic, these are really the only major decisions necessary. Let the rest flow from there.
Remember to keep it simple. Entertaining outdoors allows us to mix it up. Short on seating? Garden stools mixed with chairs and benches work perfectly well together. Short on space? Small tables scattered around for food stations and smaller eating areas may be just the ticket to utilize the space more efficiently than one large table would. This will also encourage mingling and guests can come and go as they please. Arrange lounge chairs and deep seating into small groupings for conversation areas and add comfort with chair cushions.
A good way to bring together your eclectic mix of seating is to use color to create a cohesive flow. This can be done by using throw pillows, outdoor rugs, and tableware/linens in a unified color palette. For inspiration think of bright citrus hues. Lime green, bright orange and lemon yellow look amazing together. To cool things off, think aqua and green with a pop of clean white. Scatter flower filled vases throughout the table groupings for a casual yet collected feel. Or keep things true to nature with a neutral palette and use natural foliage from your yard to create simple floral arrangements.
Daytime events will require shade, seating, games, cool beverages and food. If a body of water is involved be ready with towels, sunscreen and toys for the kids. Umbrellas add shade to the area. Try scattering several throughout gathering areas, not only over tables. Create conversation areas with umbrellas and lounge chairs accented with bright pillows. If you don’t have umbrellas, span a large sheet between trees to form a shady awning to place chairs under. Set a station for kids drinks and a bar cart for the adults (try infusing Vodka with your favorite fruit and create a signature cocktail. Offer this along with a selection of wine and beer, and you won’t need to worry about having a fully stocked bar). Be sure to have ice buckets ready for both. Clean the grill and check your supplies for enough propane or charcoal. Don’t forget the matches!
For evening gatherings bring out the candles and hang lanterns in the trees to create a special atmosphere. Create magical sparkle with twinkle lights added to the bushes, lining fences or draped café style over the patio. Scatter votive candles among tables and seating areas and use flameless candles in lanterns as luminarias along pathways to shine the way. If bugs are a problem, use citronella scented candles as votives. Have some snuggly throws on hand for guests to wrap around themselves in the cool night air as they enjoy the firelight while seated around a portable fire pit.
Don’t forget the music. Create playlists of your favorite music grouped by mood to have lively tunes for the start of the party segueing into more mellow melodies for during and after dinner.
Guests are on their way. Get that grill started! Be sure to have a meat thermometer, aluminum foil, plenty of cooking utensils and serving platters available and stashed near your grill for easy access. Load ice into ice buckets and in large bowls to set smaller bowls of chilled food on such as condiments, dressings and salads.
Gather your melamine, enamel ware and acrylic glassware for no-worry place settings. Stack buffet style for easy access and a no fuss approach. Make arrangements for a friend to come early who can help with the set up and ease the last minute rush. They can then be rewarded by being the first to sample the food and taste your signature cocktail, just for quality control of course!
Now, everything is perfect and every detail has been attended to, turn on the music, relax and get ready to have a wonderful time with your guests!