Summer send-off: plan the ultimate patio party

Backyard bashes are a summer delight – but they don’t have to be a complicated affair. We’ve got the tips and tricks to help you throw the ultimate patio party – simplified.

By Heather Camlot

Online invitationPicture this: It’s a warm summer evening and a welcoming breeze has beckoned you into the yard with a cold drink in one hand and your MP3 player set to your “chill” playlist in the other.

Now imagine sharing that perfect moment with friends.

Outdoor bashes are a summer delight, so throw one more to say so long to the season. Don’t make the party planning a complicated affair — the point is to entertain and have fun, not be a slave to guests and miss out on the good time had by everyone else.

We’ve got the tips and tricks to help you throw the ultimate patio party – simplified.

Planning

Summer parties take work, no matter the size of your guest list. There are drinks to serve, menus to create, entertainment to plan and, most importantly, budgets to stick to. It’s enough to call the whole thing off before it’s even officially on.

To help relieve some of the planning pressure, Martha Stewart has a party planning checklist that outlines what needs to be done and when, like sending out invitations a month before the date and ironing cloth napkins two days before (we did say it was from Martha Stewart).

For those of you who like to plan on the go, take a look at Liza’s Simple Soiree Party Planner iPhone app ($2). Here you can create and send invites, track RSVPs, send updates, create menus and shopping lists, record errands and to-dos, and export it all for printing.

Invitations

The most important things you need to establish for any event are date, location, guest list, and theme or party type (pool, beach, patio, etc.). With that information, you can create the invitation.

Two relatively new sites making inroads into Evite.com’s stronghold are Pingg.com and PurpleTrail.com. Both offer free web-based invitations, the ability to post onto social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, RSVP tracking, as well event web pages to post maps and photos. If you’ll be sticking to digital, take a look at Pingg, which has more striking options, many submitted by designers. If you want the option to print and mail invites, head to PurpleTrail, which allows you to download a file of your creation for a small fee.

If you prefer to go hand-made, search your local stationery or arts-supply store for printable paper that works with your party’s theme in terms of colour, pattern or design.  Open a new Word document, size the page to your paper, play with font and colour and do a test-print on regular paper to make sure everything looks right.

Food and drinks

Everyone has a different idea of what a backyard bash should be – barbecue, cocktail party, gourmet sit-down meal. They’re all good.  If you’re looking for something truly home-grown, Canadian Living magazine has some great local recipes, complete with a red-and white-twist on the Cuban mojito, as does Canadian House & Home magazine, featuring grilled maple glazed salmon and apple slaw.

You can also check out Food Network Canada’s new Blackberry and Ovi app, which lets you search the 10,000-plus recipes seven different ways, including keyword.

A signature drink is an elegant touch to any summer soirée. Figuring out what that might be is not so easy. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario publishes the fantastic Food & Drink magazine, and a quick visit to its site will net you more ideas that you ever dreamed. A seasonal search for summer drinks reveals 180 options, from Apple of My Eye to Yucatan Lemonade.

Don’t forget plenty of non-alcoholic drinks (think punch, sparkling water with a twist of lime or iced tea) and pitchers of ice-cold water.

Entertainment

What is summer music, really? It comes down to mood – laidback à la Jack Johnson, college reminiscing with anthemic AC-DC or surf-grooving to Smash Mouth. Personally, we’re liking Indie Rock Cafe’s Summer 2010 Mixtape, Vol. 1, featuring new and classic tunes from Arcade Fire, MGMT, Frightened Rabbit, The Kinks, The Beach Boys and more.

Pull out the boombox to play CDs or (dare we say) cassettes, or stream your music outdoors with a wireless speaker to keep your laptop or iPod safe from sun and spills. If guests are digging what they’re hearing, create an online playlist on your event web page or burn some CDs as parting gifts.

Of course, it’s enough to just chill all evening long, but you may also want to have some activities on hand, from a simple badminton or bocce ball set to Rock Band. Hey, everyone has a hobby!

The day of

You’re almost there. Just some last-minute decorating needs: string twinkle lights, hang lanterns, pack buckets with sand and tea candles and/or fill vases with flowers or candy. Then set up a self-serve food and drinks buffet table with colourful tablecloth, napkins, plates, cutlery and glasses, and place a garbage receptacle at the end so you don’t have hours of  cleaning up to do post-party.

Welcome guests, kick back and enjoy.

First published August 20, 2010, on WorkLivePlayCafe.com.

 

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