The cookouts and parties that I have attended this summer have taken amateur party planning to a whole new level. Highlights include Donovan’s-inspired Dirty Banana drinks on the beach made with a gas-powered blender for my friend Tasha Snowden’s 30th birthday beach party, and lobsters and live music by Good Night Louise at my friend Johnny Roriz’s annual Lobsterpalooza. Be it a backyard bash or a beach party, here are some tips on how to make your next party a summer standout.
Plan the theme in advance. Do you want a sit down dinner or an informal cookout? Whatever you decide on, keep it simple. You will want to be able to enjoy your party.
“I guess my best piece of advice would be to remind the host that summer BBQs are all about enjoying the summer weather and the company of friends – those things first and foremost – so don’t get bogged down in the details,” suggested Jessica Buckley, of Buckley’s Catering, in an email.
Also, be prepared for the weather. Always have a plan B. EZ Up tents are great to have on hand, especially to use over the grill if it rains. And don’t let mosquitoes eat you for dinner. Although it’s difficult to keep these pesky bugs away, make sure that you have some ammunition against them. Stock up on spray, coils, and citronella candles.
Even at informal gatherings be sure that there is adequate seating for your guests, especially if you are serving food that requires some effort to eat. Picnic tables are always a good bet. Set up different seating areas; make sure that some are located in the shade.
Don’t go overboard on decorations. Keep it simple. Instead of tablecloths, try newspaper. Gather wild flowers or snip a few hydrangeas for centerpieces. If your get-together is post-sunset think about possible lighting options. Tiki torches, hurricane lamps, Japanese lanterns, tea lights, and Christmas lights are nice to have on hand. Stock up on wood if you have a fire pit.
You can never have too much ice or toilet paper. Just when you think you have enough, make sure you get some more. You don’t want to be stuck drinking luke warm beverages in the hot summer sun. Use one cooler just for ice, one for alcoholic drinks, and one for non-alcoholic drinks.
Set up trash and recycling barrels before the party. Guests will be more likely to toss garbage and cans if they know where to put them. It will also save you time on cleanup. Put extra garbage bags in the barrels for easy replacement after the trash is taken out.
Live music is always really fun, but not always realistic. Pandora.com comes in handy, but if you want your guests to have a really good time, set up a party playlist in advance that evolves over the night. Start with low-key music and end with boogieing favorites, just in case the end of the night turns into a dance party.
Beer and wine are no fuss drinks to serve. If you prefer cocktails try a batch cocktail instead of making individual drinks for each guest. Being stuck as the bartender for the whole party is never fun. This works for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Jugs of lemonade and ice tea are always a safe bet. Make sangria or your favorite cocktails in big glass pitchers and label them if kids are around. The last party I went to served watermelon margaritas from a spigot in a hollowed out watermelon — a party pleaser.
What to eat: stress-free cooking on the grill
Do as the locals do, and eat local. There is plenty of delicious food that comes from this island, especially during the summer. See what’s ready to harvest in your garden, or stop by the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market or a farm stand to pick up corn, potatoes, and veggies for a salad or to throw on the grill. Oysters, clams, and fish are in abundance and should be the star of your next party. Pass the oyster knife to guests for some impromptu shucking, and steam littlenecks on the grill.
Grilling is a quick and easy way to cook with little cleanup, and just about anything can be grilled. Have meat, fish, and vegetarian options available. Instead of buying steak or tuna for everyone, serve these more expensive items as appetizers hot off the grill. Slice thin and pass around for people to enjoy as a finger food.
Before the grill gets fired up, be sure to have appetizers on hand. Shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, and raw veggies with dip are easy go-to party options. Instead of chips and salsa, make a large platter of nachos for your guests to enjoy.
When friends ask what they can bring, assign them a certain dish or course. You don’t want to be stuck with 10 plates of brownies and no sides. A salad is always a nice addition, be it a green, macaroni, or potato.
If your party goes late into the night, be sure to have some extra food on hand. Fire up the grill for late night hamburgers or pull out extra snacks for your guests.
The best parties are those that are family friendly so that everyone can attend. Have kid-friendly drinks and food options. Fruit skewers are always a favorite. When setting up seating, make sure you think of an area that kids can run around and play away from the street and not directly in the middle of the grownups. Hoola hoops, squirt guns (or not), glow sticks, and sparklers are always fun to have on hand. Set up lawn games such as croquet, bocce, horseshoes, corn hole, or ladder golf for adults to join in the fun.
Last but not least, make sure to have marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate for s’mores.