Planning & Decorating
1. Choose an Unusual Location
An outdoor site provides the best atmosphere of all for a party. Throw a romantic party on the water aboard a yacht or sailboat. Kids and grownups alike will love a graduation party at the zoo. A public park can be a welcome change from a restaurant as a stage for celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or a personal triumph.
2. Get the Right Props
Outdoor events require a little creative planning. Look for sufficient shelter in case the weather changes. Erect a tent or a temporary overhang to foil unexpected showers. To provide shade on a hot, sunny day, set up colorful market umbrellas. And if darkness will fall during the course of the party, you'll need lights. Candles, hurricane lamps, or tiki torches all fit the bill smartly. For rustic or out-of-the-way locations, rent portable toilets, and bring food, camp chairs, and blankets for sitting on.
3. Safety First
Safety is an issue outdoors, especially in summer, when people go barefoot, so use plastic or metal dishes and glassware. Does your porch light shine brightly enough to guide guests to the front door? Light the way with votive candles placed in paper bags weighted with rice or sand.
4. Pick a Theme
Assigning a theme to the occasion sets the tone and the mood. Have you always wanted to host a barbecue? Make it a Western party. Stage a cookout complete with Texas barbecue, bandanna napkins, and a musician playing cowboy songs. Or make it a spaghetti western party with a Sergio Leone video in the background. Serve pasta with red sauce, breadsticks, and Chianti on a colorful checkered tablecloth.
5. Enticing Invites
A simple, handcrafted invitation makes guests feel as though the fun has already started. Use the invitation to introduce the theme. If you are having a garden party, glue purchased dried flowers onto handwritten invitations or preprinted cards. For a backyard luau or other tropical-theme event, write your invitations on oversize price tags and tie the tags to a pair of children's inexpensive sunglasses. For a pool party, write invitations on fun items you can mail, such as kids' inflatable swimming aids.
6. Summery Decorations
Whether you're hosting a sit-down dinner in your garden or a tailgate party in a parking lot, festive, inexpensive items can transform the décor. Here are some ideas: A child's beach pail is a playful yet functional holder for utensils. Create unusual place "cards" by writing guests' names on smooth stones or large leaves. Light citronella candles to help keep pests away. Place the candles in pretty holders such as sea shells or clay pots. Create a playful centerpiece with useful items such as sunscreen, disposable cameras, children's flippers, and games - all stuffed into a giant straw summer hat. Fill a children's wading pool with ice to chill soft drinks. Send party favors home with guests by passing out inexpensive toys and sunglasses shaped like stars.
7. Flower Power
A florist can substitute for a decorator and make an impact. Florists' capabilities go far beyond arranging flowers in vases. They can work with greenery and props to help you set the stage. Some tips: Transform large, rented market umbrellas into lush tropical canopies to provide shade outdoors. Have your florist wrap fragrant climbing vines around the poles. In an outdoor area, divide large expanses into several "rooms" using small potted trees. Line walkways with columns topped with trailing ivy, or urns overflowing with ferns or potted plants. Does your party have a theme? If so, set the stage right at the entrance with a dramatic prop or arrangement. For a tropical-island theme, you can rent a potted palm and place coconuts around its base; for a bon voyage party, affix postcards to stakes of different heights and arrange them in a vase.