13 Genius Tips and Ideas for an Effortless Outdoor Party
The best kind of outdoor party has cute decor and fun outdoor activities, sure. But it also has plenty of food, drinks, and a slew of functional features to keep guests cool and comfortable, including enough outdoor furniture and dependable outdoor lighting. Sound daunting? It doesn't have to be. Here's how to plan a stress-free backyard party where everyone will have fun and no one will get eaten alive by mosquitos.
Tell Guests What to Expect
When it comes to the invitation for your summer BBQ, be sure you specify when they'll be eating. Avoid refiring the grill for latecomers with something like: "The grill master will be slinging grub from 6 to 7. Come and get it!"
Another biggie: give a heads up on attire. Everyone (OK, every woman) is wondering what to wear. Tank top? Sundress? Give guests a sense of the vibe: "You wear the flip-flops; we'll flip the burgers" or "Bring your swimsuits!"
Calculate How Much Food You'll Need
Mix up a Big Batch Cocktail
Have Enough Seats
So you have five patio chairs and 25 guests? Assess your indoor furniture. The easiest option is to press dining chairs into service, along with any drum stools or poufs. If you're keeping things casual, you can spread pretty quilts on the ground and let people gather picnic-style.
Renting can be another surprisingly cheap way to go. Folding chairs start as low as $2 apiece. (You may also be able to rent coolers, speakers, tableware, and a bigger grill.) Many vendors will even drop off and pick up, so all you have to round up is the guests and good cheer.
Hang String Lights or Lanterns
Don't leave guests in the dark. All you need is a little ambient lighting, says Jimmy Duhig, the owner of Creative Lighting Design in San Francisco: "If you're outside while it's getting dark, your eyes will adjust." Just hang strands of outdoor string lights on the deck, the fence, even tree branches, and add some hurricane lanterns or tealights. Duhig recommends globe string lights, elegant round bulbs that give off a warm glow. "This is what you always see strung overhead at outdoor dinner parties on TV," he says.
Tip: If you need to run extension cords through the yard, says Duhig, snip old wire hangers with a wire cutter and bend them into skinny U-shaped pegs (like croquet wickets, but only an inch or two wide). Then arc them over the cords and hammer them flush into the ground.
Make Decor Double as Entertainment
Skip going overboard on decor, and invest in a festive piñata that doubles as an activity for guests. From flamingos to hula girls, they come in all shapes and sizes so you can fit the mood of your party. "Fill it with dollar-store items in one color. Monochromatic always looks chic," says Clark. "Buy things people can wear, like sunglasses and necklaces. It will make fun photographs." Other fun prizes: lottery tickets and—especially for a pool party—mini water pistols.
Get Rid of Standing Water
Bugs are the ultimate summer party crasher. The biggest tip for keeping mosquitos away? Empty any standing water lurking in your yard. "That's where mosquitoes breed," says Laura Harrington, an associate professor of entomology at Cornell University. "The week before the party, empty out the kiddie pool, the rain gutters, and any rainwater that has collected in the bottoms of flowerpots."
Plug in Some Fans
Fans are also a great way to keep bugs away. "Mosquitoes are weak flyers, so even if a fan is set on low, it can create enough airflow to keep them away," says Harrington. This works best in a small area, like a deck, where you can set up two or three box fans around your guests. It's also a good idea to put a tabletop fan near the salads.
Offer Back-Up Bug Wipes
Still worried? Offer guests bug wipes. "Look for products that contain the repellent picaridin instead of DEET," says Harrington. "DEET can degrade synthetic fabrics, damaging clothing." Try Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes; stash them in a basket by the back door.
Master the Party Music Playlist
We tapped Michael Antonia, the owner of the Flashdance, a production company in Los Angeles, for his best playlist tips. He recommends going heavy on the classics: the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson—songs that people recognize. Keep it upbeat, and mix in some newer tunes here and there. "I like Bon Iver, Beach House, White Stripes, and Elliott Smith," says Antonia.
And when it comes to playlist length, plan for five hours. "Most parties aren't going to last longer than that, and if there's anyone who realizes the playlist has started over at hour six, well, they probably need another drink."
Don't Crank the Speakers
Sure, your playlist will be great. But no one will want to stand near your speakers if they're blaring. The best setup is four or more speakers, spread out, set at a lower volume. "If you're using a boom box or an iPod dock, place it above ear level so it's not blasting directly at guests' heads," says Antonia. "And turn it toward the side of the house—you can make it a little louder and the sound will spread out better."
Another option? Go cordless and opt for the clever Hudson Grace Kitchen Speaker (pictured here) which is amazing for outdoor spaces. Just place your phone inside and it will amplify your tunes instantly.
Keep Guests Cool in Hot Weather
Wondering how to survive the sweltering heat? Ice-cold compresses are a great hack. Buy a pack of inexpensive washcloths from a dollar store, roll each up and secure with a rubber band, then toss into a cooler of ice water for guests to grab. (The best cooling points are the neck and wrists, where large arteries run close to the skin.)
Invest in a Few Outdoor Toys
So the grown-ups can kick back with the sangría, have some diversions for the kids: plenty of blowing bubbles, perhaps a sprinkler or a Slip 'n Slide, and beach balls. You can also buy a few inexpensive disposable cameras and let kids serve as official event photographers.