The minute spring's temperate climes turn the corner to deliciously sun-drenched days and balmy eves it's official: The summer party season is on! The beauty of summer entertaining goes well beyond a dress code of tank tops, shorts and shades. The size of your dinner table no longer limits your guest list and you can go super creative with party themes and activities. As you begin to plan your summer soirees, consider these party ideas '- you'll feel like the coolest hostess even when the temperature heats up!
Globe-Trotting Backyard Social
Unless you've got the bankroll of P. Diddy, you probably won't be booking a tropical vacation for yourself and a few dozen of your closest friends any time soon. But you can bring home the spirit of world travel by throwing an exotic version of the classic cocktail social. It's the most fun you can have without a passport.
- Get a few cohosts onboard and conceptualize four different flavorful destination themes '- good options include Italy, France, Vietnam, Japan and Mexico. Ask each cohost to provide one drink, one appetizer and a tabletop decor for his or her destination. Review the menu with the group to ensure variety.
- Let guests know they'll be heading to exotic places by sending invites on travel postcards or fake passports.
- Scatter the snack stations around your backyard. If necessary, rent a few banquet tables and tablecloths. They're cheap and often include inexpensive delivery and pickup. (You can also rent glasses, if necessary.)
- Evoke the feel of each destination by decorating the stations with colors from the respective national flags or showcasing the typical regional tabletop items. For France, a Provençal-style tablecloth, baguettes and grapes would be perfect; red and white gingham, doilies or lace and jug wine in woven baskets say Italy; and sombreros, terracotta pottery and tin decor conjure Mexico.
- To fully transport guests, serve easy finger foods and cocktails, such as margaritas with guacamole and chips, sushi and sake, French cheeses and French bread, antipasti and wine, satays and beer, and empanadas and sangria. Don't forget a nonalcoholic option, or your afternoon affair could turn into a slumber party.
- Play music from each destination and for a perfect finale, remind cohosts to stay and help clean up.
Romper Room Redux
Who says summer games are just for kids? Rekindle magical childhood memories with a day of good old-fashioned fun and outdoor festivities.
- Send invites and be sure to tell friends to arrive in bathing suits topped with comfortable attire they don't mind getting dirty and wet.
- Stage the yard for outdoor fun. Fill balloons with water and stack them in a giant bucket for a water balloon toss. Design a sack-race runway and place burlap sacks (or old pillow cases) at both ends. Create a face- and body-painting area. Procure a banquet table and seats for a pie-eating contest.
- Designate a picnic area. Spread one or a number of blankets in a shaded spot and include floor cushions and cluster your outdoor furniture to create a big family picnic vibe.
- Go with a menu of childhood favorites. Think burgers, hot dogs, ramekins of macaroni and cheese, a big cooler of soda and beer, a pitcher of spiked lemonade and a finale of ice cream sundaes. And don't forget the pies for the pie-eating contest.
- Near the end of the party, hold an awards ceremony and give game winners prizes such as classic board games or candies.
Alfresco Game Night
Need an excuse to linger outdoors late into the evening? Gather the gang for a night of bingo or poker and everyone will be feeling lucky.
- Send invites that hint at the fun to come '- perhaps on a bingo sheet or an IOU. If money's involved, let guests know what denominations to bring. (And prepare a bank in case you need to break bills.)
- Stock up on game essentials, such as cards and poker chips or a bingo game and corresponding sheets. They're available at most toy stores.
- Get guests in the mood. When they arrive offer classic Manhattan cocktails along with scattered bowls of bar mix.
- Play up the theme with old gentlemen's club decor. Cover the table (or tables) with green felt and surround them with chairs. Light the area with lanterns or an overhead dangling lamp.
- Create a snack area: Serve easy finger foods, such as chicken nuggets with multiple dips, trays of olives and celery and carrot sticks, mini French dip sandwiches with ramekins of au jus, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Fill and display a cigar box with candy cigars, real cigars, mints and candies.
- Play classics like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Sammy Davis, Jr., and hope that luck be your lady all through the night.
The Make-Together Meal
There's nothing like the stress of whipping up an outstanding multicourse meal to take the carefree wind out of your summertime sails. But you can keep your easy, breezy attitude and throw a fabulous fete by inviting friends to co-chef an amazing feast at your place. Think of it as a fun group activity with delicious results. Everyone will have such a great time they won't even realize they're doing most of the work!
- Invite guests, ask them to bring bottles of wine and get RSVPs. You'll need a head count.
- Conceptualize a multicourse menu. Start with a fancy salad; move on to a light first course, such as a ravioli appetizer; follow it with a grilled fish or meat course with light sides such as roasted vegetables or seasoned rice; and finish with a sweet treat such as a brownie, vanilla custard, toasted almonds and caramel parfaits. Make sure the dishes are easy to make and can be prepared simultaneously. Each dish should also be able to stand at room temperature when finished, in case the timing doesn't work out as planned.
- Create a list of ingredients and buy all the necessary groceries. Before guests arrive designate kitchen or dining room working stations for each dish. Include a recipe, all the necessary ingredients and equipment.
- Set a beautiful alfresco table. Include hurricane lamps, menus for the evening's feast and small bouquets of wildflowers.
- When guests arrive, offer a welcome glass of bubbly, divide them into groups and let the cooking begin.
- When everyone has finished, gather guests around the dinner table, open the wine, and, going in order of courses, have each group present its contribution to the rest of the party. Then pat yourself on the back for orchestrating a superbly stress-free and fun dinner affair.