The Spring weather may still be a little temperamental, but it's worth braving for an outdoor soiree. After a long winter cooped up inside, nothing feels more satisfying (and fun!) than an alfresco afternoon among friends. Think lawn games, tasty drinks, delicious seasonal food and guests lounging about soaking in the long-awaited sun. Everyone loves a garden party, so we tapped some of the industry's top event planners for tips on throwing the best backyard bash now and all summer long.
Make Your Guest Comfortable
Any good party planner will tell you your guests comfort should be your top priority. If your gathering is during the day, make sure there are shaded areas and provide sunscreen. If it’s in the evening, citronella candles and bug spray are a must. Party consultant Mindy Weiss, says depending on the weather, consider offering handheld fans, umbrellas, shawls or heating lamps. “Your guests should be relaxed and not uncomfortable with the climate,” she says. “Ensure there’s adequate access to restrooms, water and other essentials.”
Focus on the Tablescape
When it comes to decorations, a beautiful spread of food and an outdoor backdrop is often all you need. Jim Denevan, the founder of Outstanding in the Field, rarely has decorations at his al fresco gatherings. “[The food makes] our table a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, set against a simple white tablecloth,” he says. If you want to spruce it up a bit, flowers are always a good idea, but make sure they’re hearty enough to stand up to heat and wind, like garden spray roses, dahlias or anything tropical. Add clear marbles or pebbles to the bottom of the vases so they don’t get blown, or go for potted plants or succulents. For that matter, any décor needs to be weighted down, and it’s best not to use paper goods unless they’re firm and heavy. Seri Kertzner, of Little Miss Party Planner, suggests using melamine plates and utensils, cloth napkins (IKEA has really cheap dishtowels she loves to use for picnic napkins) and plastic, reusable cups.
Consider Open Seating
Event planner David Beahm loves to make outdoor parties cocktail style, where the food is constantly served and people can see everyone. “Set up living room and cocktail areas so that people get comfy with each other, visit, and are not confined to a single table,” he suggests. Weiss agrees that if the event is casual enough, open seating is the way to go. “This gives guests the option to sit in full sun or shade and mingle,” she says. “I also love doing cozy, lounge seating.” Though if your party is on a concrete area, be sure to have enough chairs for everyone to sit and small folding tables so they can set down their food as well. If your party is on a lawn, take advantage and simply lay down blankets and pillows. “Just set up a folding table for your food buffet,” says Kertzner. “Or better yet, bring picnic baskets and have your whole party on the grass!”
Serve a Seasonal Menu
Take inspiration from the season. It’s always nice to start the party off with a drink made with muddled seasonal fruit or a summery lemonade with fresh sprigs of mint or lavender. Summer craft beers will also be wildly popular this season, says Weiss, try some of your area’s favorites. When it comes to food, shopping seasonally and locally is ideal. “Good food doesn't have to be expensive or fancy,” says Denevan. “When the ingredients are fresh and seasonal, you just want to let them shine.” He suggests stopping by your local farmers market and asking the vendors what's good and how they like to prepare things. “They love to share the stories of what they grow,” he says. “Whether it’s a new ingredient or a new way to cook something.”
Bring on the Games
A garden party is the perfect time to let out your inner child. Even if it’s a kid-free affair, set out some bubbles or hula hoops for your guests to have fun with—you might just be surprised by who gets involved. Lawn games are always a big hit—corn hole, bocce ball and croquet are classics. If you don’t want to deal with a whole game set, Kertzner says it’s just as nice to set out some balls to throw around if you have the space and they won’t get in the way of the food. If you’re on concrete, sidewalk chalk will keep the kids busy for hours, you could even pre-draw a hop scotch game for both the kids and adults.
Keep things Under Control
Music is a must! But be sure to check your local sound ordinances to help determine the volume and energy level of the music you play and how late you keep it on, says Beahm. As for clean-up, be sure to not save it all until the end of the night. If you’re party is at home, set up plenty of garbage cans, and clear things throughout the night. If you’re at a park or a different outside space, be sure to set out plenty of garbage bags. Weiss suggests designating some helpers than can clear up and help to ensure you leave no trace.
Have a Backup Plan
We hope it’s a beautiful blue-sky day for your outdoor shindig, but it’s always good to have a contingency plan. You can never be too prepared for rain, so either have a lot of umbrellas standing by, a tent or an alternate indoor location readily available. “Remember, summer storms can be dangerous—don’t risk it,” warns Beahm. Also, if it’s a scorcher, plan your event for the evening when things cool down.
See how to throw a spring garden party: