I, for one, love to throw a party.
Big or small.
Casual or fancy.
Doesn't really matter to me at all.
However, I realize, that for some of you, the thought of hosting a party causes you to break out in a cold sweat and have a full on panic attack.
If that describes you, the perfect “starter” party is Memorial Day. Why? It is, by definition, casual --- no need to go to some exotic grocery store or spend money on fancy tableware. You literally only need a bbq and some cocktails.
Here are my foolproof tips for throwing a fun, easy
and, most importantly, stress-free party.
Keeping a calendar is step #1. Here's a menu planning calendar you can download right now to get you started. I've found that writing down everything I need to do for a party keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.
There are 3 main parts to ANY party: food, table scape (essentially, what kind of look do you want for your table) and drinks. Let's break down each of these parts to make it even easier for you.
First, ask yourself 3 important questions:
- What food are you going to make?
- Do you want your table to have a certain look? Napkins, dishes, silverware, flowers and candles are all things you'll need to decide on.
- Are you going to have a special cocktail? Will you serve wine or beer? What non-alcoholic drinks will you have on hand? (ok, I squeezed a couple more questions in there, but these are all REALLY important things to ask yourself when planning a party.)
Once you know the answers to those questions, the rest will fall really easily into place.
So now let's chat about what the center of attention is at pretty much ANY party.
Make a list of what type of food you plan on serving. Are you going to BBQ? Will there be burgers and hot dogs, or is your crowd more steak and seafood?
I highly recommend choosing something you've already made a bunch of times.
Trying something new when you're hosting a party can actually ADD to your stress level. Also, pick dishes your family likes. If you know your kids and neighbors love burgers, then plan the meal around burgers. If you have a friend who is gluten free, be sure to include a gluten free option, like lettuce for the burger instead of a bun. Does everyone always rave about the potato salad you bring to every Summer potluck? Then that's the dish you should make for the party.
Keep on scrolling for the recipe for the chicken skewers pictured above.
What can you make ahead?
Now that you know WHAT you're cooking, plan out what things you can make ahead.
Salad dressings, marinades, bases for cocktails, and most desserts are all examples of things you can make earlier in the week. They will keep nice and fresh until the party. In most cases, what you make ahead of time actually benefits because the flavors have a chance to really meld together.
Time to set the Table
Memorial Weekend parties are casual which makes setting the perfect table that much easier. Fresh flowers from your garden (or greenery if you don’t have any flowers), mix and match placemats, plates, cutlery and glasses for a splash of color, votive candles --- all set the casual tone. I love using melamine plates for outdoor parties because they look like china, and are a bit more upscale than paper plates. That's also why I love using recyclable bamboo forks and knives. They are incredibly beautiful, environmentally friendly and MUCH better than plastic utensils.
If you have a local flea market, keep an eye out for hurricane lanterns, metal trays, and vintage plates/glasses/napkins/cutlery --- this is always where I find the best, most affordable additions to my party table.
Your local Goodwill can also be a goldmine of goodies to decorate your table.
I always set my table the day before to save time. Plus, I love to fiddle around and change things up, so this gives me time to make little changes (like adjusting the number of votives and laying blankets over the backs of the chairs in case it gets chilly).
Cocktails by the Batch
Beer and wine are fine, but summer cocktails add an extra dash of festiveness to any party. To save time, mix up a batch and store in the fridge until your guests arrive. This Blackberry Mojito and Margarita are perfect make ahead cocktails. Double, triple, or quadruple the recipe, depending on how many guests are coming, and serve out of large pitchers.
I like to have a table set up just for “make your own” cocktails.
Guests can add gin, vodka, tequila, or rum to any of the non-alcoholic bases to make the cocktail the way they like it. I also make sure there are bottles and pitchers of sparkling and still water. Add some lemon and cucumber slices to the water pitchers to add a lovely dose of amped up flavor.
One of the most stressful aspects of any party is making sure guest’s glasses are always full. If you put them in charge if filling (and refilling) their own glasses, you are now free to socialize with your guests which is the best part of any party!
If your guests prefer beer or wine, keep the bottles cold by filling a large galvanized tin bucket with ice, and then arranging the bottles in the ice. Don’t forget to open the wine bottles. For the beer, attach a bottle opener (with raffia or brown string for an extra cool vibe) to one of the handles of the bucket.
When it comes to parties there are lots of fun extras
that add to the party vibe.
Definitely do Dessert
No party is complete without dessert. Dessert doesn’t have to be complicated or over the top to be delicious. These Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches couldn’t be easier --- make your favorite cookie or cookies (in a pinch buy the best quality cookies you can find!), buy 2 or 3 tubs of your favorite ice cream and, before you can say “dessert is served,” you will have made the best, most delicious ice cream sandwiches. Make them earlier in the week. Wrap them individually in your freezer and they will be ready to go for your party.
Music adds festivity to any party (and might even get a dance party going!). Be sure to load up your phone with your favorite tunes. Whether you’re a fan of indie rock, jazz, the classics or pop, the music should be loud enough to hear. But not so loud your guests are yelling at the top of the lungs to be heard over it.
and, last, but definitely not least........
Sometimes this is the hardest part to remember when throwing a party. Your guests truly don’t care if the steak is a little extra charred or the wind kicks up and the party has to move indoors.
They’ve come to your house because of YOU. They want to spend time catching up, chatting, eating and laughing.
So, no matter how things turn out, take a deep breath, pour yourself an extra cocktail (or mocktail), and enjoy this time with your friends because friends are the most important ingredient to any party.
One more thing.
Before you scroll on, I also want to add that on Memorial Day we can easily lose sight and forget the true meaning of this holiday.
It's a day to remember and honor our military, both men and women, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
So, let's all raise our glasses on Monday, in remembrance of those who lost their lives fighting for our country, and in tremendous appreciation for their sacrifice.