The summer months offer a splendid opportunity to host an evening outdoor gathering. And without too much fuss, a fabulous open-air patio party – both lovely and laid-back—can be a success! Backyard parties only require a few essential elements: an ambient mood, an attractive table, simple (yummy) food and refreshments—tied together with a little organizational flair. Oh yes, and most important of all don’t forget to include great company….and you! Yes you—the well-prepared, unflappable, smiling hostess!
Whether we decide to hostess a patio party a month from now, or perhaps only a day from now (yes it’s possible), there are a few essential decisions to make. And regardless of how much (or how little) lead time we have, there’s always some preliminary planning to do! So before we put on our aprons, we begin with a pencil and some scrap paper.
An evening patio party might be an enchanting cocktail party, a relaxed shindig with drinks and desserts, an informal picnic-style barbeque, or even an uncomplicated plated sit-down meal. Your patio party can be whatever you want it to be; so begin by deciding what type of event you wish to pull together. A good hostess will wisely take into consideration her budget, time limitations and cooking expertise—as not to get in over her head! Other considerations will be: Are you celebrating something special? Will there be a theme, a dress code, or any special activity?
We must also settle on how many guests to include. Who do you want to invite, and how do you intend to notify them? If your party is a few weeks away, a printed paper invitation or an online electronic invitation will allow you to efficiently publish the party details, in addition to serving as a reminder or keepsake for your guests.
Set a date and time for your party. Keep in mind that if you are planning to have a seated dinner or a group activity, be sure to allow guests some breathing space to arrive well before the meal or event begins. This also permits you time to properly greet each guest and make any introductions.
Your plan is for a patio party – but what if the weather doesn’t cooperate with you? Make a backup plan and be sure that your guests know about it. You may decide to hold the party “weather permitting” or bring it indoors. Another option is to move the party to a public location with shelter. Also, confirm that guests are familiar with, or have clear directions to the party location(s).
Now, let’s cover some party basics…
Keep It Cozy
Whether it’s merely a thoughtfully set table, your music selection, or perhaps the after-dark-lighting, the mood of your party is shaped thru the ambiance you fashion. A backyard party will not require a lot of décor, so simply be creative with what you have—or with what other people have to lend you! Some ideas include draping ribbons, paper lanterns or LED fairy lights from the trees, or light up the yard with candles, paper bag lanterns, solar garden lights, or a patio fire. Consider moving some of your indoor furniture outdoors to assemble a comfortable seating corner. Blankets and portable heaters will be much appreciated on an evening that turns chilly. Make arrangements for any items you’ll need to rent or borrow. And don’t forget the music! Your playlist will be another way in which you set the tone of your party. This is something you can prepare beforehand, or delegate to a willing friend, roommate or significant other!
When it comes to enhancing and setting the table, have fun! Be different, inspired, crazy, unique, and gorgeous—be splendid! To begin with, don’t limit yourself to the linens in your cupboard. A large colourful blanket may substitute for a tablecloth, or you can even use newsprint. Check that any linens and supplies are ready to go, and gather all glassware, dishes, cutlery, napkins and serving pieces ahead of time. Then dream up ways to dress up your table: candles, centerpieces, napkins, place cards, an eclectic selection of mix and match dishware. Floating flowers in a bowl of water, a sprig of herbs at each place setting, or fresh cut greenery will serve as an alternative to cut flowers. Borrow chairs if needed for a seated dinner, or throw blankets on the ground for people to sit on. In addition to the dinner table, also consider a separate table for food and drinks. You may want to cover this with a plain white sheet, or match it with other decor.
Stick With Simple Food
Food and refreshments will not need to be elaborate—your guests will be happy even if you keep a simple menu. By setting up a drink table in one spot, and the dinner table in another, your guests will be more likely to mingle before the meal. Plus a self-serve drink station with your beverage selections and glassware (or disposable cups) will also keep you, my dear hostess, from playing bartender all night. Remember that whatever you offer guests to drink will significantly contribute to the ambiance factor—think of it as part of the décor. A homemade iced tea served in a rustic pitcher, or even a quirky lemonade stand will be perfect! Just keep in mind that a party with canned cold drinks packed in a wheelbarrow of ice will be fun, but definitely takes on a different feel than one with cocktails or wine served in real glassware. You have endless options—it’s all in the presentation! And don’t forget the two things you must have: plenty of ice and a jug of water!
Plan the menu and all the ingredients: will you serve appetizers, a main course, dessert? Do you have all the ingredients? Make a shopping and supply list in order to purchase everything you need ahead of time.
If your meal is going to be served late, consider laying out a few munchies. Even a huge bowl of tortilla chips will give guests something to nibble on; and trust me, everyone will congregate around it! If your guests are not already contributing to the meal in some way, don’t be shy to ask them to bring an appetizer or beverage. The food menu is best kept simple. So cook up something easy and delicious that you know to be tried, tested and true.
As you plan for your perfect patio party, consider the following:
- What will you wear? Think ahead to avoid any last minute frenzy!
- Cleaning the house—If you can, give your house and yard a good clean up a few days before the party. Then do a last minute tidy on the day of the party. Guests are likely to wander into your kitchen, store coats and handbags in your bedroom, and visit your bathroom. Double-check your supply of toilet roll, soap and clean hand towels. You may also want to leave out a basket with any necessities: hand lotion, sunscreen or bug spray.
- If you’re grilling, don’t forget to check your gas canister or charcoal supply ahead of time. Before the party begins, move your cooking utensils and serving essentials outside to prevent too much back and forth into the house.
- Place a garbage can and recycling box outside for your guests.
- Set the table ahead of time. Prepare any food items in advance and organize your condiments, dessert, any hot beverages on trays that can be carried out later.
- Think ahead about parking and warn any neighbours that it might get a wee bit noisy—it’s just polite!
I invited 35 guests to my last big patio party. Each guest was invited to bring skewed kabobs to sizzle on the barbeque and share. We taste-tested a variety of delicious skewered recipes, including an assortment of meats and vegetables—all on sticks! And it was fabulous! With this, I provided two large fresh bread baskets with a cutting block, a huge colander of fresh corn on the cob, and a simple green salad. My preparation time for the food was less than one hour. The overall presentation of the party was thoughtful with a garden that was lit by an assortment of lanterns. I additionally took time to set the stage with enchanting festive décor. The music was fun and lively, and thanks to my guests, it was a superb feast. To wrap up the party (before the neighbours got indignant) our guests congregated on their picnic blankets in front of a large borrowed screen and viewed a short outdoor movie—complete with bags of popcorn. It was the perfect end to a perfect patio party.
The best way to become an excellent hostess is by practicing the art of hospitality. A good hostess has planned ahead, and should relax and enjoy her guests. Be sure to engage your guests and be part of the party. Be unique, and be different. Start small, and if that works…go big!
Image via J.Crew and Cappuccinos