Spruce things up.
Make sure the mood is festive with easy decorations. Have the kids draw a big welcome sign for the front door or gate to the yard. Plant a tiny flag on all the burgers. Hang paper lanterns in the trees, hang streamers, throw gingham cloths on the table, and make table arrangements with glossy leaves and flowers from your yard or garden. (Or pick up some inexpensive daisies at the grocery store). If your party will stretch into the evening, string twinkly lights overhead!
Knowing how much to buy.
Calculating how much grub to purchase is one of the trickiest aspects of planning a party. Offering appetizers? Plan on making six per person. In terms of chips and dips, buy one pound of chips and a half-pint of dip for every 10 people. If you’re grilling hot dogs and burgers, and will have plenty of sides, purchase four to six ounces of protein per person; pick up eight ounces per person if you’ll be serving steak, chicken pieces, or ribs on the bone. Will there be any vegetarians at the party? Consider grilling marinated eggplant slices, portabella mushrooms, yellow squash, and thick slices of French bread. You may also want to pick up some mini- pizzas and breaded chicken fingers for any finicky youngsters on your guest list.
Raise a glass.
Have plenty of icy water on hand, and fill your cooler with a mix of beer, wine, soda, and juice boxes. Creating a signature cocktail for your party is another nice touch. One idea: Cut up a watermelon and puree in batches in a food processor, then strain juice through a fine-mesh sieve. Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the juice, thin slices of lemon, vodka to taste, and crushed ice. Serve in a pretty glass pitcher or glass decanter with a spigot.
Picnics can be messy affairs. Have plenty of paper towels and wet wipes available for mopping up spills and messy hands. And keep a few stain removers at the ready. They’re great for cleaning up everything from grass stains and dirty smudges to any ketchup or barbecue sauce mishaps your grill-master might encounter.
Keep pests at bay.
Mosquitoes and flies like warm weather as much as we do. If you’ll be entertaining at dusk, when mosquitoes are most active, place citronella candles on each table or tiki torches near paths, and have insect repellant on hand for guests to use. Wherever possible, place mesh or glass covers on food on the table, and make sure all trash bins have lids. You might want to set a fan up near the barbecue area, as a steady breeze can blow flying pests off track.
Plan activities for the kids.
If your barbecue will be a family affair, set up a kids’ table outfitted with supplies for simple art projects. Cover the table with brown paper (perfect for creating a crowd-sourced masterpiece) and set out a basket filled with colored paper, crayons, washable markers, balloons, and stickers. Include some sidewalk chalk if you have a protected driveway where little ones can play hopscotch or four squares. Bubbles are fun, too.
Have a post-party cleanup strategy.
To make pick up easier, enlist a few family members or close friends to help you collect used plates and glasses periodically during the party. Once guests depart, clear the buffet table, store leftovers, extinguish candles and torches, empty ice chests, clean the grill and store, and bag any refuse. Bundle up your table linens and aprons and wash with a liquid laundry detergent with a stain remover and brightener built in. By the time the loads done, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for throwing a fabulous party!