Summer is here and there’s not much better than firing up the grill, having some drinks and relaxing outdoors with your friends and family.
We all want to be the perfect summer party host, right? You know, the kind that your friends talk about with admiration because your gatherings are so well-done and fun.
But that usually entails a lot of money and effort.
This year you can host a sizzling summer party everyone will remember – no sweat.
We’ve prepared a guide to help you find everything you need for entertaining, from ideas for delicious grills and tasty appetizers to cool outdoor décor, quirky party extras, and fresh summer drinks.
Summer parties rock for you and your guests when you can use cool ideas that don’t require a lot of time or money. Because when you’re not stressed, you can enjoy kicking back with your guests for a special summer evening together.
We’ll cover easy entertaining ideas to keep the party going:
What’s a Summer Party Without Great Food?
Perfect party food is crucial to any social gathering, but that doesn’t mean hours slaving over a hot stove. That’s one nice thing about an outdoor party – often the chef gets to be more engaged with the guests.
The key is planning ahead.
Prepare tasty appetizers in advance so a few hours before the party you simply need to pop them in the oven to warm them up. Marinate meats the night before, and prepare your spice mixes for sizzling grilled food. And create cool desserts with minimal effort, store in the refrigerator, and serve with a smile.
Fresh and Simple Appetizer Ideas
You can’t go wrong with chips and dips, right? But if you want something fancier as an appetizer, try a variation on garlicky shrimp, mini peppers stuffed with soft cheese, mini meatballs or sliders, melon and prosciutto, or simple platters of cheese, salami and olives.
Summer Grill Staples with a Twist
‘Tis the season to be grilling….. Luckily you have so many options it’s going to be tough to stick to just a few choices.
Chicken and beef are the grill staples. For chicken, if you have the space on your grill, butterflying the chicken and grilling it whole imparts a fantastic flavor as well as cuts down on the cooking time.
For smaller grills, wings take the quickest time to grill at around 14 minutes. When grilling chicken legs or thighs, set up the grill with twin heats and first grill on hot for a crisp surface and then finish over medium heat so the meat is properly cooked through.
Beef grilling depends on the cut but if you are doing classic steaks, remember to flip frequently to ensure even grilling. (Controversial – some say steaks shouldn´t be touched but the Kitchn says this technique works every time.)
Meat Marinades and Flavoring
But how do you grill great meat that’s guaranteed to please everyone?
Use punchy, tasty herbs and spices that are real palate-pleasers but not too spicy, like this Adobo Grilled Chicken from Ingrid Hoffman at the Food Network that uses a spice mix of lemon pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, parsley, achiote powder and cumin.
The best thing? You can make a big batch of this spice mix and store it for weeks in an airtight container.
Or let guests control their own dressing portion by grilling meat separately and providing a tasty accompaniment in a bowl.
Here’s an idea…
Whip up a batch of this tasty, versatile Chipotle and Molasses Steak Sauce from Bren Herrera and serve it in a pitcher in the center of the table.
Brilliant Burgers Your Way
Burgers are a classic choice for grilling. They’re quick, easy and versatile.
Completely Delicious suggests giving guests complete freedom over their grilled meat with a burger bar – fill the table with a variety of sliced cheeses, toppings like avocado, lettuce, bacon, and jalapeño peppers, and condiments. Guests pick up their burger and bun from the grill then design their perfect stack.
Or you could choose fish for a fresh grill experience.
Better Homes and Gardens says “When grilling salmon, the key is to get the timing right so the fish is perfectly tender every time.” Use a dry spice rub of thyme, dill or basil and grill the fish in foil parcels over medium coals, for “4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork”.
Grilling is a terrific way to prepare veggies. With plenty of fresh summer produce about, try this Tabasco Grilled Veggie Skewers recipe from Wanna Be a Country Cleaver.
Something a Little Different
If you want something unique, but still quick, easy and fully flavorsome, try these delicious – and easy to eat – Balsamic Steak Roll-Ups from Home Made Interest:
Or how about fajitas on a skewer? Much easier to put together for a garden party! Try this recipe from Delish:
Or toss a mixture of chicken breast and fresh summer veggies into foil packets. 15 minutes on the grill and you’re done (from Delish):
Delicious Summer Party Desserts
Summer desserts are light and refreshing. Many great ideas use a combination of fresh in-season fruits and something more decadent like chocolate, ice cream or cream cheese.
For a healthy alternative to ice cream, serve colorful balled fruit like melon and peach in small ice cream cones (add a cupcake liner to the cone to stop the fruit making the inside soggy.)
Or how about a quirky twist on the dessert buffet? A popcorn bar is healthier and easier on the chef – fill a variety of large jars with different flavors of popcorn, provide colorful paper bags and let guests pop their own choice inside.
Décor That Looks Like a Lot of Work (But Isn’t)
Summer party décor is easy, breezy, and whatever you want it to be.
Love the idea of a casual Hawaiian-style pool gathering? Do it! Want to create a classic summer garden party for hardly any cash? Be our guest.
The key to creating the perfect summer party décor is to dream up an overall theme and then put as much or as little effort into decorating as you like.
Pick Your Themes
You’ve got as many options for party themes as there are stars in the summer sky. Just for starters, we suggest:
- A classic picnic party complete with old-style picnic baskets, rugs and picnic food.
- A bright fiesta-themed party with piñata, colorful crepe decorations and plenty of sangria.
- A water party – great for kids – with everything based on cool water play, pool relaxation and refreshing aqua décor.
- An elegant outdoor brunch with country-chic styling.
- Take inspiration from nature – use seashells and river rocks as place settings, and float colorful flower heads in shallow glass bowls.
- And we just adore this idea for a beach-themed party – serving snacks with mini sand scoops!
Fresh Outdoor Furnishing Ideas
Panicking because you don’t have any outdoor furniture?
Don’t worry – bring the indoors out and use easy-to-move furniture on the patio. Indoor furniture and décor pieces make the space look chic and funky, and provide all the comfort you need.
Or forget about the table and chairs and set up a picnic-style nook with blankets on the grass, poufs and comfy couch cushions.
If you’re using tables, you can get a luxury outdoor look for less (and less breakage) simply by picking some fresh vinyl table linens in bold shades that contrast with your paper or plastic plates.
Choose single colors to create a big impact or large patterns. Not everything has to match when you’re eating causally outside, but keep a single theme running through the dinnerware in either shape, shade or material.
If your taste is more formal, you can easily make a grand impression by hiring simple wooden chairs and tables, dressing with natural linens and bold flowers, and adding overhead interest with colorful pompoms or unique outdoor lighting.
And feel free to pile on the pillows! An eclectic mix of decorative accent pillows are great for comfort and style.
Set the Mood with Lighting
As the sun sets, set the mood with candles, candles, candles. For an evening party, you can’t beat the romantic glow of candles in the warm breeze. Line the path to the dinner table with candles in mason jars or wooden lanterns.
Make mason jars extra-pretty with decoration on the exterior. These Mason Jar Prism candles are just gorgeous, and surprisingly easy to craft:
When it comes to decoration, the sky is – literally – the limit; you can even hang your candles from the trees.And kill two bugs with one stone and use citronella candles to keep the winged pests away from the table – Nest of Posies has a recipe for making your own.
Guests’ eyes will adjust to the dim lighting if they are outside as the sun sets. You’ll also want to set up some brighter lighting or arrange lanterns to guide people to the bathroom and the front gate.
Smart Table Settings
For sit-down meals, organize guests with a seating plan and provide place settings so they can easily find their space. Place settings can be simple folded card stock or something more elaborate:
- Give guests a tiny bowl of snacks to snack on when they find their seat.
• Or go natural and rustic with cute painted stone place settings.
Metal, ceramic, or even colored glass vases are more durable and forgiving than clear, especially if you plan to use marbles or other methods to keep them more stable.
We love these colorful, whimsical flower pot lanterns that are easy to make.
You’ll find the accordion-style lanterns in many colors at party-supply stores.
Trace the top of the glass onto the top of the lantern. Cut out that circle using scissors. Then slide in the glass, allowing the top of the lantern to catch on the lip of the glass, keeping the lantern “open.”
Pour water into the glass, then add a handful of flowers, such as these zinnias, with their stems cut short so the blooms cluster at the top of the lantern.
And because everyone loves a good photo opportunity, create a fun photo booth for friends and family to create their own memento of the party. Hang a large picture frame from a tree and add a pile of costumes and accessories out of shot.
Get the Party Going with Great Drinks
Drinks – serve as much as you need to quench guests’ thirsts.
You’ll need a variety of beverage dispensers, jugs, or large pitchers to keep drinks within easy access. Cool glass beverage dispensers make a nice centerpiece plus they keep bugs away from the liquid.
Don’t forget that plastic glasses are a lot easier to deal with in the yard – you can find ones that look just like their breakable counterparts.
Pick Your Alcoholic Drinks
If you feel like putting on a show, lay out a cocktail bar for guests – but remember someone will have to look after it all night so your cocktail-shaking skills had better be up to speed.
For an easier alternative, mix up drinks in large pitchers beforehand and have guests serve themselves – margaritas, sangria and punch all please the crowd.
Go easy on the alcohol content as hot weather plus strong cocktails usually ends in trouble.Don’t forget that you’ll need to keep your pitchers, beer and wine cool throughout the party. Stock up on coolers, galvanized buckets, and ice, or check out these fancy ideas for super-chilled drinks from the Huffington Post.
Don’t Forget Non-Alcoholic Drinks
With temperatures soaring, make sure you have plenty of non-alcoholic options to hydrate and refresh.
Basically, any cocktail has its non-alcoholic variation and you won’t go wrong when you load up on fruity drinks and cooling flavors like lemon, peach, and strawberry.
Try this Frosted and Frozen Lemonade – perfect summery flavors and it’s so refreshing:
And don’t forget to provide plain water – still and sparkling – which helps settle the stomach and cleanse the palate for the next course.
Help guests cool down by freezing ice cubes with added juicy fruit inside – berries, lemons, apples…. the sky’s the limit. You can also freeze fruit juice, slices of lemon and lime, and fresh herbs for adding a refreshing hint of flavor to water.
Cute Kids Drinks
Don’t want to do juice boxes? Kids will love these mason jars with straws through the lid. And the bonus? You can fill them with your choice of non-sugary beverages for a healthy sip.
And whatever your guests are drinking, Martha Stewart has the answer to the pesky bugs problem – cupcake cups covering the lids, fixed with colorful straws.
A summer party is nothing without good music.
Your choice of tunes will depend on your taste, your guests, and what type of party you are hosting. But never have music so loud that guests can’t hear each other talk – your neighbors won’t thank you for this, either.
Spread four or more speakers at distances from each other, attached to an iPod dock, a laptop or a stereo system. Direct two speakers to the house so that sound is better spread out.
Or, Bluetooth speakers are a great way to wirelessly stream from your device or favorite app. Plus you could even let your guests connect their own devices to help play disc jockey!
You can’t go wrong with the classics, whether your taste is classic rock, blues, or summer pop. Mix in a few of your quirky favorites to get people talking. Anything that keeps the mood lively and upbeat is perfect – with some slower numbers mixed in.
When you are planning your play list, think about music for around five hours. Any time after that and no one will notice you’re repeating your music choices.
- Prep your menu ahead of time so you’re not tied up and have more time to interact with your guests.
- Offer some DIY-style food options as a unique twist, such as a burger or dessert bar.
- Plan your decor and even your menu around a theme so it feels thoughtful, memorable and cohesive.
- Candles and lanters are a great choice for lighting that add to the decor.
- Small decorative accents like flowers or place settings are a simple way to elevate the decor.
- Choose some fun drinks for both adults and children and to avoid getting stuck behind the bar, choose some that can be offered in pitchers so guests can serve themselves.
- Be sure to offer plenty of non-alcoholic options and water, especially during the summertime, so that guests can stay hydrated.
- Choose a fun, upbeat music playlist to really help set the mood.