Outdoor barbecues. Birthday parties. Graduation celebrations. We’ve all been to friends’ homes and enjoyed the get-togethers, some more memorable than others. What did they do to make theirs so perfect? What are the tricks to a great party? I’m going to share with you my top 5 tips to help you create an event that everyone will be talking about all year long.
1 Make it Look Effortless
I think the most successful parties are those where no one can tell how much planning you did or effort you went to. Having everything organized in advance, the yard cleaned and ready, strategically planning your menu, having the food prepared and drinks iced, the tables set, and everything ready to go long before the guests arrive gives you time to relax. A happy host always gives the best parties!
Assign people to help you with set up, serving during the party, and for clean up. Giving them specific tasks helps everything run smoothly and they won’t need your direction during the party. Hire a professional team if the event is big – they are worth their weight in gold! This is a great way to include the kids. They will be proud to tell everyone they helped decorate, or m.
Do as much as possible in advance so you can enjoy your party. Loading platters with food and keeping them (covered) in the refrigerator lets you quickly swap in a new full tray when the first one starts to look depleted. Keeping bags of chips and other non-perishables in a container under the table lets you refill as soon as you notice something is getting low and keeps you from having to run into the house every time something needs replacing or refilling.
Make sure you check to see if anyone on the guest list has any dietary restrictions or allergies. Having foods they can enjoy safely will be appreciated beyond belief. No one likes to feel like a burden and making them feel comfortable will put them at ease and help them enjoy themselves more.
2 Set the Mood
You want people to arrive and walk in the door with a smile on their face because they can already tell they are going to have a good time. Start the decorating at the front walkway and continue them throughout the house and yard. This can be as simple as creating a color theme, or all the way up to a complete transformation into a French chateau, a tropical paradise, or a haunted house for Halloween.
Music always enhances the fun quotient. If you have a specific theme for your party, match the music to that. Find a blend of songs and styles that everyone loves but keep the volume set low enough to make it easy for your guests to talk. They don’t want to have to shout to be heard. If you can, have it piped throughout the house and yard so your guests hear it as the arrive and wherever they wander.
Make sure there is plenty of shade on hot days or be prepared to move the party indoors if needed. Flexibility goes a long way towards everyone having a wonderful time.
Have plenty of comfortable seating in small groupings with tables for people to set their drinks and plates on. Make sure you have citronella candles burning to ward off pesky critters. Having a can of spray repellant on hand will help if they are particularly bothersome. It is always a good idea to have some Benadryl or other antihistamine on hand just in case someone has an unexpected reaction to the food or an insect bite. Better safe than sorry.
Having sparkling lights and paper lanterns lighting the yard after dark always adds a magical quality to gatherings. String them up at the beginning of the season and leave them up until the fall. Or if you live in a mild climate like I do, you can keep them up all year long.
3 Have a Signature Cocktail
Pre-mixing a cocktail base allows everyone to serve themselves. If you have a shy friend, assign them to tend bar – they’ll definitely meet everyone 🙂 A festive sangria with fresh fruit is refreshing and fun. Homemade lemonade, a staple in earlier days, is easy to make and everyone will love it. On its own it is suitable for anyone not drinking alcohol, and with an array of options such as vodka, bourbon, rum, and gin lets everyone mix their favorite cocktail. Make sure you have plenty of water and non-alcoholic beverages as well. If it is a very hot day, extra ice for the drinks is always appreciated.
Setting up the bar area is pretty simple. Place it away from the food so people will not gather all in one place – create movement around your yard. If you are having a large crowd, set up two bar stations so no one has to wait in a long line. Having a plastic coated tablecloth is helpful for the inevitable spills and makes clean up very easy. Make sure you have plenty of unbreakable glasses or cups. People always set them down and forget which is theirs and having a Sharpie pen available so they can write their names on their own glass will help them find it again. Set up a large cooler with ice to pre-chill the sodas and waters. Leave a couple bags of ice in their bags. You will use these to make cocktails. Add tongs or a plastic cup to the bag for people to use to fill their glasses with ice.
You can rent self-serve cocktail machines that are a lot of fun. You can serve frozen margaritas or a variety of other combinations. They come with everything you need, you just fill them up, plug them in and let the party begin.
If you are serving wine at your event, each 750 ml bottle = 25 ounces and there will be about 6 (4 oz) pours per bottle. Estimate about 2 glasses of wine per guest per hour, or about 1 bottle of wine per guest for every 2 hours your party will last. It is always better to have leftovers than to run out. Combine a blend of wines – sweeter if you are serving spicy foods, lighter if delicate seafood or poultry is on the menu, and richer if you are grilling heavy meats. It isn’t required to serve white wines with fish and chicken anymore, but being able to offer both reds and whites is always a good thing because some people prefer one over the other.
4 Plan an Easy, Mostly Make-Ahead Menu
Having foods to stave off hunger will keep everyone happy and less likely to have too much to drink. Plan on about 6 appetizer pieces per person. You don’t have to have a wide variety, but a few well thought out offerings will make everyone happy. I also like to have bowls of nuts around, but be careful if you have children with nut allergies and set them high above their reach or make sure not to include their specific sensitivity variety.
Look for easy side dishes, especially those that can be safely served at room temperature, that you can make ahead. Do as much of your shopping a couple of weeks in advance as you can so you don’t have to make a last minute panicked race to the store. Once they are made you can put them directly into their serving containers, cover with plastic and have them ready a day or two in advance. Keep them in the refrigerator or an ice chest with bags of ice beneath and on top of them to keep them chilled. Then on the day of the party, set them out and let everyone enjoy. Make sure that you have all the serving pieces you need and buy or borrow anything you are missing.
To make it even easier on you, you can ask friends to bring a side dish with them. Remind them to bring it in a disposable container or to mark the bottom with their name. And don’t forget to include a serving utensil. You don’t want to have to worry about washing and returning items that evening or the next day if possible.
If the sides are taken care of, you can focus on the main event. The entree doesn’t need to be fancy. Everyone loves hamburgers, hot dogs, and barbecued chicken. If you are looking for a major wow factor, you can cook large pieces of meat in advance and greet everyone with the mouthwatering aromas of slowly roasting pork or beef. But beware, you may have the entire neighborhood showing up at your door!
If you have a lot of different dishes on the menu, people tend to take small portions so they can taste everything. A recipe that normally feeds 6 will probably feed 10 to 12 on a buffet line. People also tend to eat smaller portions on hot and humid days so you may be able to scale back the food a little unless you have a herd of hungry teenagers about to arrive.
Dessert can be simple and still make everyone happy. A serve yourself ice cream sundae bar, simple roasted marshmallows over the grill or a fire pit, or homemade ice cream sandwiches are always extremely popular.
5 Best Friends Make the Best Guests
Inviting good friends always makes a party more fun. You know they will be relaxed and enjoy themselves, and will make newcomers feel welcome. Ask a couple of them to watch the crowd and make sure everyone is included. A little kindness always puts a smile on everyone’s face.
If you are inviting business acquaintances that you don’t know well, having some of your buddies mingling will lessen the pressure on you to entertain everyone. Make sure you have an opportunity to sit down and relax during the evening, enjoying your own party guarantees you and everyone else will have a wonderful time.
I hope these tips will help you have the best parties all summer long – including this weekend’s Memorial Day barbecues! Happy Grilling!
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Fantastic post Jane. Love all these tips, as they make life so much easier when planning. I need to get in the habit of asking guests to bring a side dish instead of feeling the need to do it all!
Thank you so much Denise! I had fun working on this list, figuring out what tricks I’ve used over the years to make really fun parties, and pulling them together. My life totally changed once I had friends bring some of the food – parties got a whole lot more fun! 🙂