While turning a casual backyard gathering into a smashing success doesn’t require a load of labor, it does mean more than just firing up the BBQ. Here’s how the pros prep for guests by grooming the yard, fixing the menu just right and keeping away the pests.
Prim ’N Trim The Yard
Before setting up tables and chairs, give your yard a mini-makeover, says Seri Kertzner, owner of Little Miss Party Planner in New York City (which, yes, does have plenty of backyards). You don’t need to go overboard by planting all new stuff, she suggests—but give your lawn and hedges a trim. “Removing the overgrowth not only looks great,” she says, “but also helps keep away bugs.” Spruce up your yard with potted plants and flowers for a natural-décor theme. And if you plan on going into the night, place tiki torches near seating areas (keeping a safe distance from anything flammable). (Get more tips for safety-proofing your backyard here.)
Create Comfort Zones
Keep things casual, recommends Kertzner, by creating “pockets of seating, instead of getting formal with tables and chairs.” Try group blankets and beach towels on the grass or inflated pool floaties around the yard. Open up your indoor living spaces too, so guests can move around easily and mingle. Iffy weather? Consider an outdoor tent to protect your party from unwanted sun or rain.
Cook Up Some Fun
Your menu will likely be the main event. According to Michael Ruhlman, author of the book Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, hosting an outdoor affair creates opportunities to serve everything from favorite finger foods to high-end grilled meats and veggies. Backyard parties are also a good chance to experiment. If Ruhlman is serving macaroni or potato salad, for example, he may put some jerk paste or chipotles in the mix. “Food should be heavily seasoned, highly spiced,” he says. “And at least one item should be cooking on a grill for the aroma and smoke.” (Check out this Easy Chipotle Guacamole Recipe for a quick crowd-pleaser.)
However, not all dishes require hours of labor with a spatula. To satisfy grazers and keep you out of the kitchen, choose foods you can cook ahead of time and serve up buffet-style. Prep classics like baked beans in a slow cooker, for example, and set out a build-your-own hot dog bar with toasted buns and fixings. On warm days, remember to keep plenty of chilled water on ice, in addition to summer favorites such as soda, beer, wine and fruit cocktails.
Citronella candles may be known to help keep bugs away, but mosquitoes aren’t the only pests around. Backyard parties can attract an array of critters, including raccoons, rabbits or even the neighbors’ dog. Help deter those seeking to crash your bash with lots of lighting; and reduce your menu’s luring scents by keeping food platters covered. Dodge unwanted bites by keeping insect-repellent wipes handy—an alternative to spraying guests (or food!) with the bottled kind. (Read more about Natural and Effective Pest-Control Techniques here.)
Now that the party’s over, learn how to clean your grill in minutes.
By Katrina Woznicki