The First Rule of Summer Party Planning: Keep It Simple

Too often we work ourselves into a tizzy trying to throw the perfect party. Give yourself a break: Offer your guests good company, good music and good food and drink, and they’ll go home happy.

From the decor to the menu, it’s best to keep outdoor entertaining simple. But simple doesn’t mean boring; it means planning ahead and streamlining. Do as much as you can before the day of your event. Plan your menu, clean up your yard, decide how you’ll decorate and light or shade your space, check your supply of ice and decide what serving bowls, dishes and linens or plastic cloths you’ll need. Set up your sound system – even if it’s just a portable CD player – and choose music that will set the proper mood.
The Basics
Take a good look at your entertaining space and consider each of the factors

  • Space – How many people will fit? What areas should be used for what purposes? Move your yard furniture around to create spaces for sitting, eating and cooking and for kids to play safely.

  • Temperature – If you are planning a daytime party, make sure that the food will be served in a shady area and that your guests won’t be sweltering in the sun. Trees, colorful umbrellas, awnings and canopies provide welcome shade and add a festive atmosphere.

  • Decoration – Keep your decorations simple and bold. Cheerful container plants, colorful table cloths and comfortable seating are all you need to transform your back yard or patio into an outdoor dining room. Have your kids make centerpieces out of freshly picked flowers and greenery from your garden, or make creative arrangements of brightly colored vegetables. Enormous bowls of chips and tangy salsa or a generous heap of lemon and lime wedges set out next to bottles of mineral water make a pretty and practical table decoration.

  • Lighting – For evening affairs, dress up your space with inexpensive lights. Small white Christmas lights do double duty when strung around a backyard fence and hurricane lanterns make pretty centerpieces and stay lit even if an unexpected breeze comes through. Even floor lamps from your house can come outside to make attractive pools of light. Votive candles in baby food jars clustered on tabletops make a low-cost yet dramatic centerpiece.

    Fire has tremendous appeal, and though not everyone owns a chiminera you can achieve the same effect by firewood or artificial logs in a charcoal barbecue. (Obviously, be especially cautions with fire if there will be young ones running around.)

    “I have a mini Weber grill that I bought at a yard sale for $3,” says Denise Leone, a mother of three. “We use it for outdoor fires and toasting marshmallows all summer long. It’s simple to just put the top on if the flames get too big.”

  • Contingency Plans – With darkness come mosquitoes. Chase them away with citronella candles and torches. If the bugs are particularly fierce, or the weather changes, you may have to move your party inside, so make sure that you’ve tidied up the living room and that you can reasonably accommodate your guests inside as well as out.