Take the Party Outdoors
What better way to enjoy summer than to throw an outdoor party with family and friends? Outdoor entertaining is easy and everyone wants to be invited, so make the next party yours.
One reason to move the party outside is if your house doesn't accommodate as many people as you'd like. Hosting the party outdoors gives you more space to relax and enjoy your company. While grownups eat and talk, kids frolic and play - in a stress-free environment.
"In an outdoor setting, I don't have to worry that a hotdog will make its way to my living room floor," says Kim Byers, owner and creative director of www.thecelebrationshoppe.com.
Parks and beaches are also great places to host a party. Check with your local government to find out about regulations or ordinances you may need to follow.
Choose a theme
Make your party fun and easy to plan by choosing a theme. Themes help direct decisions about food, entertainment and other necessities. You can build it around a piece of material you like, or focus on a holiday or birthday. The Fourth of July, Hawaiian or Pirates of the Caribbean themes, for example, make decorating easy. Once you pick a color palette, choosing coordinating tableware and plastics is easy.
Decide whom to invite
If you haven't entertained outdoors often, start with a small guest list. This may be a chance to get to know your neighbors. Perhaps there is an elderly widow or new family in your neighborhood who would appreciate joining your get-together.
Serve easy food
The backyard barbecue is an all-American way to entertain. Hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs and ribs are simple foods you can serve right off the grill. Remember to add vegetables such as corn on the cob or skewered peppers to the menu. Select sides you can make ahead of time, like cold pasta salad or potato salad.
Grilling mini pizzas for your guests is a fun idea. Prep a few core ingredients and let everyone pick their own toppings. "It takes the pressure off of you to come up with something everyone will like," Byers says.
If you are anxious about entertaining, it's not a good idea to try a new recipe for your guests. Pick your favorite simple lunch or dinner item, then add a salad or fruit. Many guests will offer to bring a dish to serve alongside yours.
Set up food stations in the shade and chill foods made with dairy products or mayonnaise. Fill brightly colored tubs or ice chests with drinks for adults and kids so they can serve themselves. Place covers or screens over food to keep out insects.
If you're hosting an evening party, put candles on the tables and consider stringing lights around an umbrella or along a deck rail for a festive look. Place citronella candles on the table to ward off insects, but remember to watch out for little fingers.
Splashes of brightly colored pillows and cushions on outdoor furniture can brighten up a backyard setting. Add a tablecloth with bright cloth napkins that match your theme color. Throw a blanket on the grass to serve as a children's eating area.
Provide games and outdoor entertainment
If your yard accommodates it, set up games such as croquet or volleyball. Fill a wading pool and add some toys to create hours of fun for younger kids, but be sure to assign a "water watcher" even with shallow water. Remember to provide extra towels and sunscreen for your guests.
Host your own outdoor film festival with an inflatable movie screen, and watch the latest flick on DVD with friends and family under the stars. Guests can bring extra chairs and kids can use sleeping bags. A simple search on the Internet will help you find stores that carry inflatable screens.
As the hostess, you don't have to prepare adult activities, but prep a few topics or questions ahead of time to drop into the conversation in case it lags.
Remember, even the best plans may go awry due to stormy weather or a sick guest, so have a back-up plan and go with the flow. If there are spills or accidents, graciously clean them up. When your guests see you take things in stride, they'll relax and enjoy themselves even more.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different combinations of foods, themes or activities when you entertain outdoors. Your hosting confidence will grow as you continue to invite friends over and build on what you know.
Jan Udlock is a freelance writer and mom of five.