4 Tips to a Hassle-Free Outdoor Party

July 30, 2014 Entertaining, Grilling

Outdoor parties usually fall into two categories — get-togethers and blowouts. The first tends to be impromptu, involving neighbors or family dropping by. The second is planned weeks in advance, involving the entire neighborhood or the entire family tree. In both cases, the most important piece of the party puzzle is the people that bring it to life.

If you're the host, there is no reason to worry. By planning a crowd-pleasing, alfresco-friendly menu, minimal décor and simple activities, an outdoor event can be easy to host and fun to attend. Use my top four tips to plan a hassle-free fete outside:

By planning a crowd-pleasing, alfresco-friendly menu, an outdoor event can be easy to host.

1. Be Overly Prepared. Food, drinks and ice are all you need. Really. Just add people. Piece together a menu that works year-round, and tailor it to be served outside. Build it around a deceptively easy and delicious recipe like Mini Turkey Sloppy Joes. Made in minutes with pantry staples, they're equal parts hearty and messy — the perfect party food. Plus, they can warm in a slow cooker on the porch while the corn is roasting and the Cool 3-Bean Salad with Grapes is chilling.

Keep the beverage menu basic. Offer plenty of water and something colorful. Provide one or two options and call it a day. Set out a pitcher of fruit punch and serve it in interesting glasses alongside sweet garnishes.

Prepare to use a lot of ice, and purchase enough that will provide leftovers in the end — better safe than sorry, since nothing puts a damper on a good time like warm drinks and melted popsicles. Creamy summer foods made unsafe by high temps are even worse. So, store ice in the freezer, in coolers in the garage and in buckets and trays scattered outside. Replenish often, and if guests call on the way to the party asking if anything is needed last minute, request ice.

2. Make It Easy on Yourself. Create specific stations outdoors. Designate a beverage area with iced tubs, a corner for the grill, a long table and a big spread of grass for the kids to play. Let guests help when they offer — kids can set and decorate the table, and the grown-ups can maintain the grill. Here are some other handy tips:

  • For large parties, consider using disposable cups, plates and silverware. Have fun with thematic colors and prints, or go green with supplies made of recycled materials.
  • Place lined garbage cans in a couple spots to inspire guests to clean up after themselves.
  • Consider paying a pair of young guests to keep up with cleaning during the party so you can enjoy the festivities with friends.
  • Say yes when guests offer to bring items! Encourage them to contribute their signature recipes, or assign appetizers to those with last names beginning with A-M and desserts to N-Z.
  • Ask guests whose talents lie outside of the kitchen to bring extra coolers, extension cords or chairs.

3. Stay Outside! Seems like a silly tip for an outdoor party, right? Yet, without some thoughtful prep, the party could migrate inside. It's most fun (and most convenient for families with young children) when guests of all ages are mingling in the same general vicinity. Make your outdoor space as comfortable as the indoor, and guests will want to remain outside. Here are some tips to keep the party outdoors:

  • Cluster food spreads and seating in shaded areas. Take advantage of canopied trees and pop-up tents. Cover from the afternoon sun, and fresh flavors like the cilantro in Black Bean Salsa With Pineapple, will be even more refreshing than an air-conditioned house.
  • Offer frozen treats throughout the day. Before anyone can even think about popsicles for dessert, cruise through the crowd with a tray of slushy beverages or a platter of frozen fruit wedges.
  • Keep the hose handy all day long. Remind guests to bring towels, and invite them to dip, run and splash in baby pools, sprinklers and slip-n-slides during the party.

If you're planning to gather at a park, make the most of the entire venue. Assemble the event around the grill (and the Backyard Black Bean Burgers you'll be serving hot from it), but make sure the party spills over to the swings and horseshoe pit, too. Bring games like ladder toss and cornhole so guests can engage in fun, informal tournaments. Or, pull together simple crafting supplies to keep kids busy. And be sure to pack an empty cooler full of water balloons to stay cool during the sunniest hours of the day.

4. Try to relax. Keep all these tips in mind, and even small gatherings will feel like full-fledged blowouts — and every jam-packed blowout will feel as intimate as an unexpected get-together. But the key is that no matter how big or cozy the party, you'll be prepared enough to relax.