Use greens that are less likely to wilt, like hearty watercress, and serve the dressing on the side. Slaws work well, too.
For any buffet with buns: Put bottoms before the meat on the table, tops after. It will keep the line moving.
Before the meal, wrap dishes like a caterer: Set a platter on a piece of plastic wrap twice the size of the dishes; pull up and over. Cut open with scissors. (No wrap wrestling.)
When packing the car, stack supplies (games, linens, melamine plates) and the non-cooler foods flat in a rectangular laundry basket.
Soft-sided coolers or insulated bags are easy to carry and keep food chilled until you set up. Put ice packs on top, not at the bottom, as cold air sinks.
For deviled eggs: Nestle them in a shallow airtight container lined with a paper towel to prevent sliding. Fill extra space with paper towels so the eggs don’t roll around. Put the lid on and top with plastic bags filled with ice.
For sangria (or any other picnic drink): Sandwich plastic pitchers of sangria and bottles of seltzer between bags of ice; use the ice for drinks.
For crudités: Remove the vegetables from the brine before packing in a large zip-top bag (no stinky spills). But don’t pour the brine down the drain! Save it and boil it again for another batch of pickles.
If a guest doesn’t want to cook, they can be in charge of the ice supply and mix simple cocktails—two ingredients max (like gin and tonics).
Designate someone to stay by the grill and keep it clean, hot, and ready for each batch of food. She should also keep grill tools and serving platters on hand.
Have two coolers filled with ice next to the grill so that the meat stays chilled until it’s time to cook. Place seafood directly on ice.
To ensure a steady flow of food, give cooking volunteers an approximation of when they will be up to grill. Folks with vegetables or tofu should go first if they want to avoid mingling with meat.
Don’t assume that everyone is a pro at the grill. Keep a spray bottle with water handy for flare-ups.
Leave a dish of barbecue vinaigrette by the grill for basting and one on the table for topping salad and sides.