Event planner JoAnn Provenzano remembers an outdoor party that went a bit awry. “It was a big engagement party. The bride-to-be was one of ten siblings, and her sisters took it on themselves to spread the word,” she recalls. “It was a catered event, but she wanted the dessert to be potluck. Well, picture 400 people showing up carrying pies on a 104 degree day, with nowhere to put any of it to keep cool. It was insane.”
You may well want people to remember your outdoor party as “insane,” but most likely you’d prefer the context to be “insanely good time” rather than “logistical nightmare.” And once you get past the impromptu level of half a dozen pals around the fire-pit, there will be logistics involved; far better to handle them ahead of time and be free to wallow in friends and pleasures on the day of your bash.
“Your first concern should be the comfort and safety of your guests,” says Joan Howe of First Impressions Event Planners near Rhinebeck. “Enough parking, enough seating, an adult to mind the fire-pit if children will be there, a lifeguard if there’s swimming involved. If you’re serving alcohol and not hiring a professional, get a ‘weekend event’ liability rider for your homeowner’s insurance.” If you’re planning a fire, be sure to check with local authorities for a permit if needed.
Know your budget, bearing in mind that the most expensive choice may not be the absolute best one for your party – and also that some things which seem like money savers up front may not work out that way. “Once you get up past fifty or so people, it’s a good idea to start considering a venue,” says Cindy Phillips of “Everything of Excellence,” based in Highland Falls. “The practicalities of everything from bathrooms to seating to flatware can add up and you actually spend more on trying to provide them all yourself.”
Consider a theme. “People often end up wondering what to wear,” says Howe, “and making that clear when you invite them resolves that. Making it a masquerade party or having a theme, whether it’s a luau or a historic period or whatever, can spark a lot of creativity and fun. A theme can be as simple as a color combination -- have everyone wear red and yellow, say, or a certain print.”
Bruce Littlefield, lifestyle and entertaining contributor for “The Better Show” on Better Homes and Gardens TV and the veteran of many a bash at his Marbletown country home, agrees.. “I love having a theme party,” he says. “I’ve done a hoedown, a clambake, a Mardi Gras, a potluck, an outdoor game party with volleyball, badminton, and croquet…If somebody knows they’re going to a themed party, it builds the anticipation of fun. And even if you don’t want to have an all out theme, some simple thematic touches – get a big bunch of Mardi Gras beads and give everybody a string- it’ll open people up and get them talking.
“Actually, first and most importantly, I believe you should have a signature cocktail, ideally using something from your garden – mint, strawberries, blueberries. Figure out your signature cocktail and everything evolves from there.”