Essential summer party planner
Planning a hot summer party? Celebrate, don't stress! This season, summer is about a return to old-fashioned good times. Think: easy, unfussy food and drinks, casual decor and unpretentious simplicity.
Easier said than done? Not really: read on for our party-planning tips guaranteed to help you make merry, not have a party meltdown!
Step 1: Atmospheric essentials
Setting the mood at a summer party is pretty easy: strategic candlelight, music and a nice tabletop pretty much set the mood. The sultry weather, starlight and great company take care of the rest.
Here’s an "ambiance checklist" so you can get started:
• Safety lighting: Ensure safety with path lights or landscape lighting (if you don't already have them) along paths and near decks and patios.
• Mood lighting: Use torchieres, hurricane lanterns, votives and/or twinkling string lights to create a winsome mood.
• Music: Set speakers outdoors for better sound quality than from ye olde boom box. Create mood-by-mood digital play lists in advance so you won't stress over music during the party. TIP Start the evening lively and begin chillin' out as the night wears on.
• Furniture placement: Group your seating into a series of conversation pods. Do not, repeat do not, create a large "circle" for everyone to hang out around, lest anyone have flashbacks of kindergarten! But seriously, let people meld and mingle naturally (and as host, be sure to broker introductions to keep people circulating). Natural conversation areas indoors and out include:
Dining table (if not used as buffet station)
Kitchen bar or table
Standing room in kitchen
Deck seating and deck standing room
Patio seating or lawn seating. Throw an indoor carpet on the grass with some floor cushions for a casual "beach-seating" area. Asian rug skews bohemian, IKEA-style cotton rug skews coastal-chic.
Step 2: Food & drink
There's a new trend towards easy, fresh, wholesome party food. Part of this can be credited to the recession (ostentation is out) and part to the eco-minded Eat Local movement.
If you base your menu around local food, you can save on ingredients and use less-fussy prep methods: after all, who needs to spice and cook locally sourced heirloom tomatoes when all they need to shine are boconccini, oil and vinegar and torn up basil from your garden?
• Think outside the box: you don’t need to serve only "party" food or tapas. An entrée or side dish becomes party-ready when you serve it differently. Cold soup—easily made the day before and refrigerated—can be ladled into shot glasses and served on trays, as Vichyssoise shots.
• Simple grilled foods keep the cook within the heart of the patio-party action. Chunky sweet potato fries, for instance, are a snap to BBQ (just toss them in olive oil first) and you can dump them into metal beach pails, toss some sea salt and chopped herbs overtop, and they're ready for passing around.
• Minimize beverage prep and serve time by using large ice-filled tubs to hold bottled drinks, as well as pitchers of sangria or other drinks you can make in batches.
Step 3: Accents & good-to-remembers
Decorating for an outdoor party is fairly easy. Much of the value-added ambiance comes from the great outdoors: the moonlit night, gentle breeze and summer garden. In addition to your food and drink, candlelight and music, you'll find that basic things like fresh flowers are all you need to set the mood.
Here's a checklist of final planning musts:
• Flowers: If you have a verdant garden, clip some blooms and arrange them indoors by your buffet, in the washrooms and on tabletops in conversation areas. Stick with small arrangement so they don't crowd out glasses and plates.
• Extra candles: Don't run out!
• Scented indoor votives: Essential for the bathroom.
• Plates and glasses: Basic white side plates are available everywhere (including the dollar store and party-rental centres) and match any theme.
You can dress plates up (only if desired!) by placing a large leaf in the centre. Make sure the leaf is edible and chemical-free. Nasturtiums are a common garden plant that fits the bill, or you can find frozen banana leaves at Asian or Central American grocers.
Basic wine glasses from IKEA are inexpensive, suitable for wine as well as water, and can be reused at all your parties (unlike disposables). Keep the cardboard boxes they come in and stack them under the table and between parties.
• Designated helpers: Enlist buddies to help take care of basic tasks (keeping ice buckets topped up, relighting candles, moving dirty plates a couple times a night) so you don't go nuts.
• Child's play: Kids welcome? If so, say so on the invite or e-vite. TIP Consider hiring a couple of responsible teens to supervise the kids upstairs so the parents don't have to hover.
• Invitation list: Always invite more people rather than less if you want a busy, humming party!