The weather’s getting warm, there’s a long weekend ahead, and you’re thinking now’s the right time to host outdoor parties or barbecues, or throw together a neighborhood block party. Here you’ll find a collection of substantial tips to help you make your warm weather backyard get-togethers memorable and keep things running smoothly.
Keeping outdoor parties cool & weather-proof
Outdoor parties are awesome, except when it’s sticky hot. The best ways to create a tolerably cool backyard involve providing shade trees, awnings, a pool, etc. If those options aren’t practical for you, here are a few quick and relatively cheap ways to keep your guests comfortable.
- Misting fans. You can get an inexpensive oscillating fan that stands outside, hooked up to your garden hose, and sprays a fine mist that cools off the area of a patio. (For a larger area, space several fans at intervals.)
- Or try a $16 misting system with no fan – just six nozzles on a line which you string across the area. They dispense mist to provide evaporative cooling. Requires a little more set up and may be less effective than the first option, but could actually be a better set up for dry hot areas, depending on the temps you have to deal with.
- And would we leave you without a DIY version? Air conditioning with a big bucket of ice water, a hose and a fan for your outdoor parties.
- Remember to plan around rain. It’s always a possibility. If you’ve got lots of overhangs for them to gather under, you’re fine. If not, be prepared to rent a canopy at the last minute or have a room inside the house ready for them to come in.
- Remember wind. Make sure your tables, umbrellas and decor items are all firmly held down. You don’t want stuff blowing around if you should happen to get stiff breezes on the day of your party.
Food, decor and guest comfort
- Get some mosquito control to keep the party as pest-free as possible. If you don’t have time to set up some of the more elaborate but effective methods, at least keep a selection of DEET-based and natural topical repellants on hand for guests who forgot to wear their own.
- If you’re barbecuing, check out our page of barbecue tips.
- Rope lights are perfect for cheap, effective, beautiful outdoor lighting. Get some online or at a local drugstore (check the seasonal section) or party supply store. They come in lots of colors, don’t use much electricity and can be positioned almost anywhere. Line walkways to help avoid stumbles, string them around table edges or along the top of a canopy. If you can position them so they reflect off a pool (if you have one) that can increase the overall light and look very cool.
- Patio umbrellas can cost as little as $20 each if you shop around. This is great for small get togethers.
- Clamp-on chair umbrellas are even cheaper.
- You can also rent canopies. Consider springing for one with mosquito netting to help repel bugs, if you get them in your region.
- Build your own outdoor canopy. That links gives you very simple instructions, but if you have trees it might be even easier to string something together.
- Be clear with guests about whether or not they’re to bring side dishes or bottles of alcohol. If you leave it up to them, some will feel obligated to bring something, others won’t and those who brought something will feel put upon while those who didn’t will worry they look cheap or rude.
- Consider setting up a buffet table. This can keep the party more organized and make it easier to clean up. Also, guests don’t have to wonder if they’ve sampled everything, since it’s all on the table and not scattered around.
- Plan to serve appetizers while the meat’s cooking. This one may sound obvious, but some people skip this step. Some of your guests will probably be starving when they arrive (intentionally, so they can really enjoy the food). And if there’s alcohol, people are likely to start drinking with or without food, which means you may have obnoxiously drunk guests on your hands before you’ve even served the meal.
- You may want to make activities available to your guests – horseshoes, croquet or a pool. This is especially good if you’re going to have teens and young adults who may get bored just chit-chatting and eating. (Though, honestly, the kids will probably just spend all their time texting.)
- If you have a pool, establish safety rules! If you have small children coming or guests you don’t trust to behave, you might want to make the pool off-limits. If you do plan on letting guests use the pool and that includes small kids, it wouldn’t hurt to designate a couple of willing non-drinkers to keep an eye out just in case a child falls in (it happens). You’ll also need to provide a place for people to change into swim wear.
- Bathrooms, and a place to stash coats and/or purses. Your guests are going to need a place to dump their coats and/or purses, and also a bathroom to use. For a small gathering of friends, this is no big deal. But if you’ve got people coming that you don’t know, consider using a lockable bedroom for the coat/purse stashing, to which only you and your co-hosts have the key. That way people feel secure that no one’s getting into the room where their stuff is without supervision. Designate just one bathroom in your home as the guest bathroom to keep things simple and minimize cleanup later on. If the coat/purse room can be close to the bathroom, even better: you won’t have people tramping all over your home.
- Your guests will need somewhere to park. If you don’t have lots of easy parking available near your home, warn them and suggest carpooling. If you want to be really fancy, you could hire a limo to pick everyone up and take them home later for less money than you might think. This is a nice touch if people are going to be drinking, too. If you have plenty of places for people to park, you may want to put up signs or tell them in advance exactly where to park so no one ends up getting a ticket for misreading a street parking sign – or ends up parking in your yard.
Creating really successful outdoor parties isn’t that difficult – it just takes some advance planning and knowing what’s out there that can help you.
Originally published May 25, 2013