Parents and party planners offer tips to create a memorable warm-weather gathering.
It's summertime and the living is easy. That is, unless you're stressing about planning the perfect summer gathering. Whether it's a backyard barbecue, birthday party or Fourth of July soiree, it can be simpler than you think to execute an outdoor event the whole neighborhood will be talking about.
But before getting lost in the details of food or favors, you'll need to decide where the party will take place.
“In order to relax and enjoy, your guests must be comfortable,” said Mary Rodgers, owner of Moxie's Gifts, Candy and Party Room in Clintonville. “With an outside party, the most important comfort factor is shelter. It doesn't matter how beautiful the day might be, shade is essential. Big umbrellas, trees and tents are great shelter options. Lightweight sheets can be used to create a fun and colorful makeshift tent. Tie one corner to the garage, another to your strategically parked SUV and a third to a nearby tree limb or post. Leave the fourth corner free to create a vertical panel on the sun side of your shelter.”
Rodgers also recommends keeping plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and Band-Aids on hand.
Susan Clapsaddle, a Powell mother of two, regularly hosts outdoor parties since both of her children have August birthdays. She utilizes her garage as a food hub and a place where guests can cool off. “We have an above-average-size attached garage, and what we tend to do is clean it out,” Clapsaddle said. “It has outlets, so we'll have fold-up tables and electrical power strips to plug in a bunch of Crock-Pots. We'll also plug fans in. If someone is really hot, guests can get out of the sun and get in front of the fans.”
Crock-Pots allow Clapsaddle to make some foods the day before and reheat them the day of the party. Nicole Shook of Nicole's Catering agrees that's a good approach. She encourages parents to keep food simple—and appealing to children.
“When we do parties for kids, we look at it from an easy standpoint because we want to produce a great product with minimal work,” Shook said. “Kids are probably more in tune with the presentation of food than adults are. You have to sell a kid most of the time, and you have to make it fun and exciting for them to enjoy.”
Shook, who has two young children, suggests putting fresh fruit in a sugar cone or waffle cone instead of a bowl. Or fill small, clear cups with ranch dressing and add veggies to create single servings. “Outside, the more individually contained you can make it, the less you have to mess with it,” Shook said. “The kids just grab it and go.”
For something more substantial, try tea sandwiches. Megan Ada, owner of Asterisk Supper Club and Sunny Street Café, both in Westerville, said they are light, refreshing and look nice.
“[Try] cucumber cream cheese and dill on soft white bread, and make sure to cut off the crust,” Ada said. “Egg salad piled on white bread or classic peanut butter and homemade jam. You can have fun with the shapes of the bread and garnishes. Find fresh herbs from your garden to top your sandwiches off. Find teacups and saucers from thrift stores. No need to spend a lot of money. You can find some great treasures that were once owned by great people that have a story and use them to talk about at your summer party.”
Seeking a sweet treat? Shook recommends a s'mores or cake-pop bar. A cake-pop maker can cost as little as $20, and toppings are easy: melted white or dark chocolate, sprinkles and nuts will do the trick. Make the cake portion ahead of time so you can be hands-off during the party.
And don't forget a fun activity: Rodgers loves the idea of a paper station for paper airplanes and pinwheels. “Kids love to make stuff and adults love to talk, so having simple things or something that older kids can show younger kids how to do is nice,” Rodgers said. “Make it something that has an activity that goes beyond making the item. If you have pinwheels or paper airplanes, kids can run around with those and see how far the paper airplanes can go. Those particular activities give you some time when the kids can create.”
With the details in place, make sure you have enough hands to pull it all off without running yourself ragged—it's always OK to ask for assistance. “My mom and mother-in-law help out a lot with the food,” Clapsaddle said. “It's a family event.”