Outdoor Parties: A Planning Guide

The arrival of luxurious summer afternoons and long summer nights means the options for outdoor entertaining are endless. Make the most of warm weather by planning a fabulous outdoor soiree, and being organized enough to enjoy it! Use this planning guide to ensure that when your guests arrive on the big day, you’re all set to party – not running late and taking care of last minute details.

The Week Before

The week before your party is the perfect time to iron out details. Begin by unpacking or purchasing all the items you may need. This way, you can relax and look forward to the event all week, secure in the knowledge that you either have it all, or have enough time to get it all!

Firm up the following:

  • □ Budget
  • □ Menu
  • □ Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to be served
  • □ Music
  • □ Theme, if any

Also, make sure you aren’t forgetting to invite anyone and follow up with those guests who have yet to RSVP. If you’re hosting a large backyard gathering, it’s always a nice touch to invite neighbors to join in the festivities. It may also be a good idea to forewarn neighbors that you’re hosting a gathering and politely ask if they mind cars parked in front of their house throughout the evening.

Lighting sets the mood – be sure you have any combination of the following:

  • □ Lights to string up
  • □ Citronella candles
  • □ Floating candles (these work well in bird baths, garden ponds or pools)
  • □ Garden torches
  • □ Lanterns

Take inventory of furniture and linens:

  • □ Outdoor chairs and cushions
  • □ Tables
  • □ Table cloths
  • □ Blankets
  • □ Towels, if needed
  • □ Napkins

If you are planning outdoor activities, purchase or unpack:

  • □ Badminton racquets and birdies
  • □ Croquet set
  • □ Softball equipment
  • □ Other outdoor games

Make sure you have plenty of:

  • □ Propane
  • □ Charcoal
  • □ Lighter fluid

Go shopping for:

  • □ Plates
  • □ Cutlery
  • □ Napkins
  • □ Cups and glasses
  • □ Any serving dishes and utensils you may need

Other items to consider:

  • □ Coolers
  • □ Ice buckets
  • □ Serving platters and utensils
  • □ Party favours, if necessary

Two Days Before

Do any of your guests have special diet requirements? If so, confirm these and add any necessary items to your food shopping list. Next, evaluate your menu. Perhaps an outdoor party is not the best occasion to try out fancy and complicated new recipes. You don’t want to end up in the kitchen all night! Keep it simple and classy and your guests will be impressed with how relaxed you are. Also, go for as many make-ahead dishes as possible.

Calculate how much food you need and make a list. Ensure you have enough:

  • □ Condiments
  • □ Juice
  • □ Pop
  • □ Bottled water
  • □ Wine
  • □ Beer
  • □ Ice
  • □ Plates, cutlery, napkins and cups

Then hit the shops, and get your party shopping done!

Next, take care of lawn and garden maintenance, such as:

  • □ Watering flowerbeds
  • □ Mowing the lawn
  • □ Trimming hedges
  • □ Cleaning the pool
  • □ Sweeping and cleaning the deck and concrete common areas

Today is also a good day to tidy the inside of the house and ensure washrooms are clean.

Final Tips: Check weather reports. If, there is a high chance of rain, see if you can line up a tent or tarp. And even if the coast is clear, the skies can turn on a dime, so clean out your garage or basement and throw drop sheets or blankets over any particularly cluttered storage areas. Then, you can move the outdoor festivities inside to a casual area if the need arises.

The Day Before

Now is your opportunity to get ahead of the game by making as much of the food before the party, as possible. Even the most organized person forgets something, so today you can double check your party set-up and unpack or purchase any forgotten elements.

Start Preparing:

  • □ Punches and cocktail mixes
  • □ Pasta and potato salads
  • □ Appetizers
  • □ Marinades
  • □ Thaw meats
  • □ Cut vegetables
  • □ Prepare dips
  • □ Make ice

If weather permits, set up:

  • □ Tables
  • □ Chairs
  • □ Tents or tarps


  • □ The lawn has been cut and watered
  • □ Common areas are clean
  • □ Lighting is in place
  • □ Music is arranged
  • □ You have a clean indoor area prepared in case of changes in weather

Final Tips: A good host thinks of everything – including extra blankets, pillows and toothbrushes for those guests who over-imbibe and need a place to crash for the night. If you have a spare bedroom, change the sheets and make the bed. Make it clear to guests that they are welcome to spend the night.

The Day Of

All the planning and preparation was worth it! It’s now the day of your party, and you’re all ready to go.

In the morning, finish setting up:

  • □ Tables
  • □ Chairs
  • □ Tents
  • □ Tarps
  • □ The beverage area

Food preparation:

  • □ Ensure all meat is thawed and ready to go on the grill
  • □ Pour condiments into containers and refrigerate until needed
  • □ Add carbonated beverages to punches
  • □ Make sure you have enough ice
  • □ Finish all pre-cooking
  • □ Clean the grill and barbecue area

And voila! You have transformed your home into party central, and when you’re guests arrive, you’ll be as cool as a cucumber!

Final Tips: Keep garbage bags and cardboard boxes close at hand, and clear up trash a few times throughout the evening. Make sure perishable food is kept cool and shaded, and don’t leave anything sitting out for too long. About two hours on a warm day is the rule of thumb. Keep all unused items refrigerated. And have fun!

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