With Memorial Day just under our belt we’re craving summertime. And nothing is more quintessential to summertime than a 4th of July BBQ.
The smell of BBQ on the grill. The sound of children laughing. The zing of cold water and the warm sun on your skin. Nothing beats the thrill of fireworks on a warm summer night, wrapping up another memorable 4th of July celebration. And yet, as any host can tell you – there is a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes to creating that perfect summer soiree. But, with a little planning you’ll have guests ooooing and ahhhing over more than just the fireworks.
Planning should begin at least a month in advance but preferably more. Initially, there are several critical items that need to be decided in tandem. In order to send a thorough invitation you need to know the details of the event. And, in order to establish the details of the event, you need to know the guest list, the location and time.
Knowing who is coming along with the time frame of the event allows you to configure a suitable space for the size and demographics of your party. So, first, layout your dream team party list. Doesn’t hurt to place a few phone calls to some of your key party goers.
- Give your guests plenty of time to RSVP.
- Be sure to include a “respond by” date in your invitation.
- Be prepared to follow up!
- Consider an online email invitation website like com where you can put together gorgeous invitations, send reminder emails, keep track of guest lists, even have your invites play music or come with a personalized “envelope.”
- We all have those relatives/friends that won’t confirm or deny their attendance until they walk through the door so, always be sure to plan for a few extras.
- Take note of children (including ages), guests who may have difficulty with mobility, pets (if invited), plus one’s and designated drivers.
Venue + Layout:
Okay you know your headcount. Mostly. Now it’s all about location. Backyard or beach? Camp-out or Tailgate? The lake, the river, the pool…the possibilities are endless. Make sure you consider access and any potential dangers to young children or pets. While considering the venue, I like to layout the event space to make sure it works for the group. Consider your guests when making the layout. Some families love to gather while others like to spread out in smaller groups.
- Make sure you have a large enough space to accommodate your group but similarly you don’t want to have too massive a space for a small gathering or it won’t feel intimate and connected.
- Be sure to setup grilling/cooking separate from play areas and even block it off if you can.
- Plan your dining style: sit-down dinner or buffet.
- Buffet: place tables close to serving areas (no one wants to walk a mile with a full plate) .
- Food service: will your food need heating or cooling.
- Shade: plenty of it.
- Bathrooms: if your bringing it a john place it at the edge of the gathering for privacy.
- Privacy + Emergency Kit: changing out of or into swimsuits, a rambunctious toddler that needs to calm down, a breastfeeding mother, an overheated aunt, even a small injury can require a little alone space to address the issue.
- Comfortable seating.
- Space for setting down drinks and food.
- Trashcans and recycling areas.
- Lighting: does your space have electrical outlets, or do you need to bring portable lighting and/or a generator (you can purchase inexpensive generators even through Amazon, just be sure to test the sound output well before your event).
While planning the venue and layout be sure to consider the time frame of the event. If you are planning an all-day pool party, it’s important to remember that you’ll want to have spaces for relaxing and unwinding as well as fun activities. If you invite young children or infants and even older adults, having an appropriate space for relaxing and taking a nap is an appreciated gesture. And, if you’re ending the night under the stars, be sure to consider a good spot to view fireworks!
Traditionally, 4th of July parties are all about water. And since the 4th is THE quintessential summertime holiday, grilling is an excellent option. Remember it’s not about reinventing the wheel on the fourth of July but about celebrating tradition!
Be sure to make to consider your guests before you plan your menu. An elegant sit-down dinner doesn’t often work well for a party filled with rambunctious children. However, with planning and foresight any inspiration is possible! A separate children’s table with less formal food and serving ware can be just the ticket for a more formal 4th feast. Especially if you hire an onsite babysitter or two.
- Establish an easy outdoor friendly menu that can satisfy a variety of palates.
- This holiday lends itself to buffet style.
- Favorites like BBQ, corn on the cobb, potato or pasta salads along with easy baked goods like brownies and cupcakes are not only classics but also crowd pleasers for all ages
- Remember that while sauces can taste great, they make for sticky fingers.
- What is barely spicy to one guest might be extremely hot for another so consider serving sauces on the side as dips or offering two options of grilled fare.
- Consider how you plan to serve items and plan for appropriate cooking, serving, and eating ware
- Pre-serving some items (ala salads and sides) in individual sized portion cups can make it easy for guests to roam.
- Consider utilizing local bakeries or markets for some of the menu by pre-ordering your baked goods and sides.
- Have LOTS of hydrating liquids (water is a must) at different areas of throughout the event .
- No party is complete without some fun cocktails (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
- You can easily find menus and recipes (hello, Pinterest) online and family recipes (Grandma’s famous apple pie baked into individual portion cups) makes for a special touch.
- Be sure to test any new recipe you use. It may sound tedious (well maybe not for your taste testers) but it’s worth the extra step to make sure the recipe works.
- You can find adorable plastic and paper (and recycled) products these days.
Décor + Lighting
There are two aspects to event decoration: practicality and whimsy. On the one hand a space needs to be functional. And on the other hand, it’s a party! So, it should be beautiful and fun. My favorite way to consider a space is to “be the guest” and walk around with the mindset of someone unfamiliar with the space. For example: you get up from eating, your lovely but disposable dinnerware in hand … now where is the trash and recycling? Or, you get out of the pool … where are the towels? By thinking like a guest, you can setup an event with details that all together make for a functional and gorgeous guest experience.
- Think details: an old weathered suitcase next to the portable loo packed prettily with all your toiletry and sun essentials, wooden stumps around a rock fire pit for setting your drink while you’re roasting marshmallows, even an artfully arranged cheese board and pitcher of sangria can make a space beautiful.
- Setup your space a day ahead and put out all furniture, tents, canopies, etcetera the day ahead.
- Save linens and flowers – small touches – for the day of the event.
- Book (or recruit) setup and breakdown help.
Without a doubt the two most common event issues that I’ve confronted are seating and lighting. Extra guests and unlit hazardous corners are a host’s bane. In the weeks leading up to the event, I like to view the event space at the same time of day that the party will be held. By walking the event space in advance, you address some important issues pre-event.
- Where is the sun harshest? Add shade.
- What areas are the darkest? Provide illumination.
- Test your lighting if you can.
- Inexpensive staked solar powered lights (easily found at Target, Walmart or Amazon) can transform a treacherous walkway into a welcoming and safe thoroughfare.
When considering event lighting, I like to consider a three-level approach: above (globe lights and chandeliers) provides ambiance, eye level (table or floor lamps) provides direct illumination and below (like walkway lights) which provides safety and transition from one space to another.
- Anywhere a guest is walking or performing a function (eating, serving, playing games or freshening up in the lou) should be illuminated.
- Great tip for transforming a space: utilize a portable generator (you can purchase through Amazon) to create portable illumination! Utilizing a small generator, you can illuminate offsite events or even provide illuminated in a hard to reach corner of an event space without the hazard of cords running all over the place. Simply connect our 26” lighted weatherproof stars and voila: gorgeous, original, festive and portable event lighting!
Scavenger hunts, party games, lawn games, pool games, drinking games … having little areas dedicated to specific activities helps break up the event and keeps your crew occupied. Bocce, croquet, backgammon are all summer favorites. A round of pool basketball anyone? Get creative!
- Be sure to consider age appropriateness of the games you select.
- I find that the best activities are group activities.
- Plan a family game: sometimes parents may be reticent to get involved in a game (after all they want to chat with adults and enjoy relaxing) but creating an activity for families to do together can be a highlight of the event. A little coaxing and parents enjoy the delight on their children’s faces as much as competing with other parents.
- A little goodie bag goes a long way with kids! Just be sure to avoid sugar and stick to toys, crafts and games (Target has a great section at the front of stores with items under $5 and similarly “Dollar Stores” are another excellent place for inexpensive goodie bag items for kiddos)
- No party is complete without Music: create a festive (age appropriate) playlist or hire a local musician. Any musicians in the family? Consider staging a concert.
Setup + Breakdown:
I’ve setup and broken down more events than I care to recount. The worst part of an event is clean up. Guests are tipsy, you are pooped out, kids are getting sleepy and everyone just wants to sit around and eat smores. Be sure to plan for this. Because you want to enjoy your party too!
- Consider bringing your supplies in large plastic containers with lids. This makes packing up much easier.
- Remember: any rentals will need to be returned (pack small items in a box).
- Any catering: you will need to return serving platters (pack in another box).
- Remember: it’s important to return any river or lakeside area back to pristine condition.
- Children are excellent at picking up trash especially if you turn it into a game with teams.
- Hire a cleaning crew or recruit a few key players (who won’t be … shall we say be worse for the wear) to help break things down and clean. You can thank me later!
When planning any event, I like to consider the intent of the event itself. Some events are dedicated towards a specific person or idea and it’s important to keep that thought at the forefront of your mind. The 4th of July is an event celebrating freedom. Things like country, family, tradition, friendship, and of course summertime all come to mind. Be sure to keep these ideals in your mind when planning your summertime soiree and you’ll be sure to create a success.