Hosting a Barbecue or Cookout This Summer? Bookmark These Planning Tips and Entertaining Essentials

Photo: John Kernick

Professional party planners, caterers, and etiquette experts share their best advice.

01 of 10
corn on the grill
Elizabeth Cecil

With winter in our rear-view windows, it's time to start prepping for summer and all of the fun activities that go along with it. One of the very first things that comes to mind as the weather begins warming up and the daylight lingers well into the early evening is hosting backyard barbecues with friends and family. Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that it is safe gather with vaccinated loved ones, there's no time like the present to put together one of your famous cookouts. In fact, it's a good idea to get ahead of the curve, since so many events, trips, and plans have been pushed to this summer. After a year without any in-person celebrations, you can anticipate that this coming season will be absolutely packed with them.

Another reason to tackle the prep work now? Any gathering, regardless of its type, requires some forethought, notes Jodi R.R. Smith, the owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. "With hosting comes responsibility, and in a COVID-19 world, that includes a few extras," she says. "As long as your barbecue is well planned, well thought-out and well organized, it will serve as a wonderful way to restart your post-pandemic social life," she notes.

Ready to plan an epic barbecue that yields unforgettable memories with loved ones? Consider some of the expert tips, courtesy of etiquette experts, party planners, and caterers, on the slides ahead. Armed with these insights, you will be able to put together the (careful) backyard bash of the season.

02 of 10

Establish the Guest Count

outdoor summer party
Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

"Whereas a few years ago you might have planned one giant start-of-summer, open-house style event with all of your friends and family, this time around, smaller gatherings—spread out over the course of the season—are a better bet," says Smith. If you're feeling uneasy about a larger event, she recommends cutting down your guest list to a number you feel good about. "Just let people know that you are having a smaller soirée and that if they are not invited to the first, there will be many more," she adds.

03 of 10

Communicate with Attendees

people enjoying an outdoor summer BBQ
Getty / Maskot

Chances are, attendees will ask you what they can and should bring to your barbecue. Smith recommends taking them up on their offer and communicating any asks clearly. "From lawn chairs and beach towels to a change of clothing (if it is a pool party), sunscreen, bug spray, or hand sanitizer, eliminate the guests' guesswork by being clear on what you are providing in advance and [what you will need from them.]"

04 of 10

Provide Day-Of Essentials

woman using small portable antibacterial hand sanitizer on her hands
Helin Loik-Tomson / Getty Images

Items like hand sanitizer and disposable masks are party staples these days. They will keep guests at ease, and that's especially true of face coverings for loved ones who are not fully vaccinated or children under the age of 12, notes Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert and the founder of Mister Manners. Lexi Ritsch, co-founder and Director of Catering & Events at Hamptons Aristocrat, agrees, especially on the sanitizer front: "Whether placed on the bar or on the food table, sanitizer has become a habit, for better or for worse."

Another must-have? Stain remover, adds Farley. "For the inevitable spill, splatter, or smudge, be sure to have ample stain remover on hand, along with cloth towels that can be used to blot, soak, or scrub as need be," he says. "Don't let your occasion go down as the one where they remember it mainly for the day they ruined their favorite pair of shorts."

  • 20 Summer Entertaining Essentials from Martha
05 of 10

Reduce Table Counts

Four place settings with patterned napkins and placemats
Lennart Weibull

Give people plenty of space when dining. "For example, if you normally have a table of eight, put only six people at the table, instead," says New York City and Hamptons-based celebrity caterer Andrea Correale, the founder and president of Elegant Affairs. "You can also prepare utensils rolled up with ribbons and name tags, along with personal serving utensils."

06 of 10

Choose Self-Serve Bar Service

pulled chicken slaw pasta salad watermelon
Ren Fuller

If you're hosting an intimate group with vaccinated guests, Ritsch suggests opting for a self-serve bar (keep hand sanitizer near the station for good measure). "Let your guests be the mixologists by adding some fun juices, artisanal sodas, and kombucha in glass drink dispensers and let the guests have at it," she says. "We all know we've had a lot of practice mixing our own drinks this year!"

07 of 10

Opt for a Personalized Menu

Glazed Pork Chops and Blistered Shishitos
Con Poulos

As you consider your menu, Smith recommends opting for easy personal servings. "Individual apps, such as a cup with a dip at the bottom with carrot and celery sticks, are a great choice," she says. "For dinner, food from the grill can go straight onto individual plates instead of a communal dish. For dessert, opt for pre-wrapped ice cream novelties instead of scooping ice cream and handing out cones."

08 of 10

Use Eco-Friendly Party Supplies

Place setting with eco-friendly tableware
Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Disposable, but compostable is the way to go for barbecue utensils. Not only does this ensure that you won't have to clean up any broken glass or ceramic, but you also won't have to spend hours doing dishes. "There are so many amazing bamboo and wooden options for one-time use," notes Ritsch. "Line cute galvanized buckets with trash bags and let the guests do the clean up themselves!"

  • Eco-Friendly Tableware and Cutlery
09 of 10

Don't Forget to Recycle

Kate Mathis

With that said, not every piece of trash should end up in the same bin. "Empty bottles and used cups should find an appropriate home in recycling containers, marked in such a way that the recyclables do not get mingled with regular trash," adds Farley. "Make sure to designate someone to keep an eye on containers to ensure they are emptied before they overflow."

  • How to Host a Party with Zero Waste
10 of 10

Consider Dietary Restrictions

grilled whole fish lemon thyme
Paola + Murray

As always, it is important to anticipate guests' dietary habits or restrictions. For this reason, Maryanne Parker, the etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners, recommends focusing on food quality rather than quantity and having different alternatives for guests, from lean meat and fish to vegetables, salads, and plant-based burgers.

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