Throwing a party during the summer months is ideal for many people. Generally, it nearly doubles the amount of space the homeowner has for socializing because it allows for outdoor games and even campfires in the midst of suburbia.
When planning such a soiree, there is still much to consider. Do you have appropriate seating and socializing space outdoors? Will your guests be able to enjoy themselves without constantly swatting mosquitoes and other bugs? Do you have appropriate shelter from the sun or from the evening chill? What are you going to serve (both food and drink)? How are you going to entertain your guests?
When furnishing an outdoor seating space, most homeowners use sofas, side tables and ottomans. The focal point is often a fire table, which doubles as a coffee table, said Andrea Odishoo, a designer in the Vernon Hills Steinhafels furniture store.
A glass top can usually be placed over the fire portion of the table so it can be used for casual dining, hors d'oeuvres and drinks. And when night falls, the warmth and ambience of a propane-fueled fire table cannot be beat.
But, she adds, "Outdoor dining tables are still our most popular outdoor furniture since Americans are accustomed to dining outdoors and most love to do that when they can."
Huge, cantilevered umbrellas that move around wherever you need them and can shelter both dining and seating areas from the sun are another "must" unless you have an awning or some other sun shield over your outdoor space. They are now massive and very sturdy, Odishoo said.
Outdoor fireplaces are also wildly popular with homeowners who choose to purchase or have constructed wood-burning or gas fireplaces (masonry or prefabricated) or fire pits in their yards.
"Many women don't like the smell of smoke, so they choose to have a fireplace fueled by either propane or natural gas -- and we put stones, ceramic logs, broken glass or geometric shapes in the fireplace to enhance the look of the fire. We are even able to run the gas line from the house if the homeowner wants to use natural gas," said Dan Mayer, owner of Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights.
"It can be really magical to sit outside, especially around a fire pit or fireplace, and have a great conversation with your friends. And if you invest in torches or the lanterns that use alcohol gel, you can make your yard look like a resort. They really look cool and add to the ambience," he added.
A day or two before the party, start preparing the environment (i.e. your yard). Cut the grass. Then consider hiring a professional mosquito prevention service like Mosquito Hunters of Chicago. They will come to your home before a special event and spray your bushes and trees with an environmentally-responsible concoction and then put another treatment on your grass to make sure your event is 85 to 95 percent pest-free, said Andy Fuller, owner of Mosquito Hunters.
"Mosquitoes are drawn to a party by the carbon dioxide given off by your guests. That is why your unprotected party becomes an all-you-can-eat mosquito buffet," Fuller said. "You don't want your guests to be annoyed, but beyond that, you don't want to expose them to mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus. Our treatment also protects against fleas and ticks."
Once you have the basics in terms of furniture and pest control, it is time to turn to the specifics of creating a truly memorable event. If you want to do that, consider having a theme, Mayer of Northwest Metalcraft said.
Tie in the food and have a neighborhood rib cook-off, or a luau, or a lobster boil or a taco party (with piñatas filled with adult favors). That way the food and its preparation can become part of the entertainment.
"Then you can just kick back after dinner by sitting around the fire pit or playing some games or doing a beer or wine tasting," he said. "Food and fire are both great, natural themes for an outdoor party."
Once you figure out your theme and guest list, you may have to consider renting extra items to keep people entertained or to allow everyone to sit while they enjoy the food you have planned.
The variety of items that one can rent for a soiree is truly amazing. Besides the tables, chairs and tents that you would expect, there are inflatable movie screens, carnival games, disco balls, bubble machines, karaoke machines, mini-golf sets, volleyball sets, one-on-one electronic hoops games, dunk tanks, bug foggers, lights, heaters, chandeliers, bars, dance floors and fountains.
You can also obtain a variety of novelty food machines including nacho machines, pizza and pretzel warmers, cotton candy makers, Sno-kone machines, hot dog steamers, popcorn machines and soft serve ice cream machines.
Simply search for party rental stores in or near your ZIP code.
An inexpensive new item available to help keep your food and drinks cold on the buffet table is an inflatable bar/buffet that inflates easily and is perfect for keeping food or beverages chilled for hours. It looks like an inflatable raft with a raised edge to hold ice. You simply inflate and add ice. It costs $9.99 at bedbathandbeyond.com.
You can relieve yourself of a huge amount of the work if you hire a professional to do the cooking and deliver the drinks. And if you choose the right professional package, the food's preparation can double as the entertainment.
Weber Grill restaurants, which are owned by the same people who make the iconic Weber Kettle and a wide range of other grills and smokers, offer a Weber On Wheels (WOW) catering package in which they deliver Weber Kettles to your site and grill for your backyard party, company picnic, wedding, graduation celebration, family reunion or birthday party.
"On-site grilling parties are an action station component for your catered event," said Lauren Rullo, sales and marketing manager for Weber Grill Restaurant. "We bring out grilling experts, along with our portable grilling station, and produce fire-inspired cooking on the spot. Your event will be the talk of the summer as we bring the same standards of service from the restaurants to your home, office or park."
And you can't beat the fact that the party hosts can enjoy the celebration alongside their guests. They aren't tied to the grill or smoker or trapped inside preparing those side dishes. Weber sends a grillmaster, a supervisor and an assistant to make sure everything is seamless.
"We offer a variety of party packages, ranging from a Build-Your-Own Burger Bar, to barbecue favorites, or even our signature dishes, such as teriyaki skirt steak, bourbon-glazed grilled salmon and, of course, New York strip steaks," Rullo said.
The options within each party package are wide. The Build-Your-Own Burger Bar package, for instance, allows you the option of including turkey, chicken or veggie burgers, along with the conventional beef burgers. Toppings and cheeses abound with this popular package.
Those who choose the Barbecue package get the choice of barbecued chicken, ribs and pulled pork. Beef brisket can be added for an extra per person charge. The food is cooked on a Weber ranch kettle, right in your yard. Sides included are bourbon-baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread, Rullo said.
The Fire-Inspired Backyard Party package allows guests both beer can chicken and skirt steak. Sides include seasonal vegetables, salad, mashed potatoes and pretzel rolls with cheddar butter.
Finally, there is the Signature Party package. It is very popular with outdoor weddings and includes both grilled New York steak and plank-grilled bourbon salmon. Sides included are Caesar salad, Yukon Gold potatoes, asparagus and pretzel rolls with cheddar butter.
"We are always happy to customize a package or menu for your event," Rullo said, "as we want all of our on-site grilling events to be exactly what our hosts had in mind when planning their party."
Find details about the service under "catering" at www.webergrillrestaurant.com.
As for the liquid refreshments, Weber is happy to provide a bartender for an extra cost, but they recommend party hosts contact Binny's event planning service for assistance with what to purchase. Binny's will even deliver everything you need (including mixers and pop) for a flat fee.
Binny's also offers advice on which craft beers to stock, which wines are particularly popular, and which liquors are "in." Fads and tastes in alcoholic beverages change quickly and unless you are in the business, it is hard to stay abreast of what is "hot." Much also depends on the time of year, the occasion and the guest list.
Concierges also advise hosts on when to cool items, what needs to be kept out of the sun, what wine should be paired with what meal, etc. They are also good at estimating how much of each beverage is needed.
Binny's does not set up the bar or ice the beer, however. That is the responsibility of the bartender, caterer or host. Incidentally, party hosts may request a list of bartenders-for-hire from their Binny's event planner.
For more information, visit the quick links "party planning" tab at www.binnys.com or call your local store.