You don’t need a reason to throw a party, but there are many reasons to host one this time of the year. Father’s Day. Summer solstice. Graduation. Shower. Wedding. Family reunion. Fourth of July.
And all those summer birthdays, of course.
In most cases, big decisions need to be made. How many guests? Tent or no tent? Catered, partially catered or DIY?
Once all that has been decided, party planning and setup can be a lot easier than you think. Some tips:
1. Pick a theme or at least a color scheme. It’s still the easiest and most effective way to create a visually appealing setting – a “wow” for when guests arrive.
“It helps you focus on what you want instead of running all over. This way, it gives you a cohesive look,” said local event planner Lisa Redino, owner of Party Harty in Amherst.
The event itself can determine the theme. “If it’s a birthday or graduation, that is the theme,” Redino said. Other themes remain timeless. Garden party, swimming and barbecue, for example, although Redino notes a recent interest in bohemian themes – especially for weddings.
2. Keep food manageable. The key is to make things easy to grab, carry and eat. One option is to go mostly with finger foods, including sliders and small fruit kabobs, and add salads or sides that require only a fork.
Another tip: When calculating how much food to prepare or buy, go online. Foodnetwork.com is just one resource to help you estimate.
3. Have plenty of chairs. It may seem obvious, right? You can rent folding chairs for about $2 each if need be. (You also can rent everything from table linens to Sno Cone machines.) You can haul out, borrow or buy stacking chairs. You can even bring dining or kitchen chairs outdoors.
Don’t worry if your chairs are different styles. Group similar ones in smaller conversation areas. You’ll definitely want enough chairs out of the sun – under a tree or umbrella or on a shady side of the house.
4. Add lighting. In addition to any landscape lighting you have, torches, lanterns, votives and strands of lights provide a festive touch. Gather them ahead of time so you’re not running around at the last moment. Make sure you have a working lighter so you’re not fiddling around with matches.
5. Set up beverage stations. Beverage dispensers and galvanized buckets have become very popular in recent years. These make serving cold beverages even easier – and more stylish. It’s especially important to have plenty of water on hand.
MarthaStewart.com suggests setting up several beverage stations: “Galvanized tubs, colorful enamel buckets and planters work perfectly. Place an assortment of drinks in each bin if they’re destined for different locations throughout the yard. Or fill each container with a single type, such as imported beer, white wine or bottled water. With ribbon, tether an opener to a handle of each bin; drape a dish towel nearby to take care of condensation.”
It often makes sense to have a separate bar area manned by a bartender or responsible adult.
6. Throw in whimsy. It’s a backyard party after all. Paper lanterns (decorative, not with bulbs) come in many colors and patterns and are a fairly inexpensive way to decorate. Hang them from awnings, trees, porches or tents.
Balloons, of course, always scream party. Or here’s an idea from Better Homes and Gardens: Put memories on display. Attach photos to construction paper and hang them from string or a clothesline using clothespins. For a high school graduation, that could mean photos from kindergarten through senior year – arranged in chronological order.
7. Set up a quiet area. Choose a spot in the shade and at a short and safe distance from all the activity. Think quilts or blankets; bean bags; kids’ table and chairs and perhaps a basket of books for young guests.
You may also want to reserve another section of the yard for lawn games.
8. Discourage party crashers. People have different ways of dealing with mosquitoes and other biting insects – from hiring an outdoor pest control service to burning citronella candles.
Hopefully, you have educated yourself on pests before the party. Cornell University has helpful information in the New York State Integrated Pest Management section of its website under the “What’s Bugging You?" heading.
A few tips include getting rid of standing water: Clean gutters. Don’t pile grass clippings. Cover trash cans. Dump and replace water in birdbaths and wading pools weekly. The website also has tips for dealing with stinging insects.
On party day, electric fans are another recommendation. This from the American Mosquito Control Association, a nonprofit group based in New Jersey: “Mosquitoes are relatively weak fliers, so placing a large fan on your deck can provide a low-tech solution.”
9. Have some essentials handy. Hand wipes, sunscreen and insect repellent, for starters (adult supervision is required, of course). Real Simple suggests Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes ($14 for eight, avon.com; it’s DEET-free).
You may also want to toss in handheld paper fans in hot weather. One online resource: PaperLanternStore.com, which sells them in a range of colors. A pack of 10 Premium Paper Stock foldable fans are regularly priced at $13.95.
10. Have a game plan for trash and recyclables. Placing enough garbage cans and other receptacles around for trash, bottles and cans will make cleanup much easier. Who wants to be fishing water bottles out of the trash or picking paper plates out of the shrubs after the party?
Be sure to label which contents go into each container – and hope for compliance.
Final tip from Cornell’s website: Keeping garbage cans away from tables will make your picnic area less attractive to stinging insects.