Backyard blueprints

Tips for planning outdoor entertaining

Tips for planning outdoor entertaining

July 22, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

By now, you've dusted off the grill, touched up the yard and might already have hosted a party or two, but there's still plenty of time to throw the throwdown of all backyard throwdowns.

The Herald-Mail consulted professional party throwers for tips on how to host the ultimate backyard party. They say no matter how big the budget or how fancy the food and decorations, poor planning can keep a party from reaching its full potential.

"It's all those little things that add up," said Dale Bohrer Sr., co-owner of Dream Events in Sharpsburg.

There's more to it than picking out the food and crafting a guest list - though those tasks can be easier said than done. You've got to account for all the "what ifs," like what if the gas grill does not start, what if it rains or is too hot, what if too many people show or if your guests are too few.


Bohrer said the earlier you start planning, the more likely you'll be able to enjoy your own party. He recommends starting at least three weeks before the event.


First, pick a date and decide if you're going to go with a theme. Then determine the size and level of formality - all of this will help you determine what kind of food to serve.

Once you've done these things, you're ready to send your invitations, Bohrer said.

Bohrer said nowadays people are choosing to forego informal phone calls and snail-mailed paper invites for e-mailed invitations. Web sites like allow users to send fancy Web invites and RSVP online. Card companies such as Hallmark and American Greetings allow people to send e-mailed invites for free. Younger people are relying on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to spread the word.

However they're sent, Bohrer says you'll want to pay close attention to how you present information about your party.

For example, give people the entire range of the event instead of just giving the start time.

"Sometimes when you do these things and you hold people to such a firm schedule, people will feel guilty if they come two minutes late," Bohrer said.

And most importantly, ask people to RSVP. This will help you determine your budget and pre-empt waste, said Lisa Boyle, owner of Classic Entertainment, a full-service event planning firm in Hagerstown.

"Everyone is not going to come," she said.

Finding the right food and drink

As for food, "Never assume everybody likes the same foods you like," Bohrer said.

Go with the tried-and-true standbys - burgers and 'dogs. You can save money and circumvent having to satisfy everyone's tastes by asking your guests to bring a covered dish, Bohrer said. You can also solicit ideas when you send out the invitations.

Bohrer said anything that can be prepared ahead of time should be. This gives you wiggle room to address any emergency - like if the gas grill really does break down on barbecue day.

When planning the menu, Boyle said don't forget about vegetarians.

"And you want to ask yourself, are they salad people or French fry people," she said.

Boyle said you should consider how long the party will last and how to handle things that spoil - deviled eggs and potato salads.

When it comes to beverages, consider alcohol with caution. For one thing, alcoholic beverages can be expensive. Also, alcohol can become a liability. Serving it means you have to be willing to take away people's keys and let them crash at your house or make alternative arrangements for them to get home, Boyle said.

If you're offering alcohol, serve wines or other drinks on the lighter side, Bohrer said, to make it easier to keep people from overindulging.

Brown says liquors should be avoided altogether.

"It has a way of bringing out the mean in people," Bohrer said.

Crowd control

The first thing a DJ learns is that you're never going to please everyone, said Scott Obitts, of Knights of the Turntable, a Hagerstown-based DJ service.

So don't expect things to be different at your backyard gathering.

If you're playing the DJ, Obitts recommends catering to what the majority of people like. If people approach you with oddball requests, be graceful, Obitts said. If it will stir up laughter - MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This," for example - consider playing it. If it will effectively clear the floor, explain this delicately to the requester and don't play it.

Usually hard-core rock songs are a no-no. "Nobody will dance off of it," Obitts said.

Boyle said the radio seems to be a good happy medium. "You can always change the station," she said.

Also, many cable television companies also provide commercial-free music channels. You can run a speaker outside and use this as an option.

For those who'd rather not be bothered, expect to pay a DJ between $400 to $600 for a four-hour party, Boyle said. Obitts said the price for a three-hour party ranges from $150 to $450.

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