As the days get warmer, your mind starts drifting to thoughts of days in the sun surrounded by your favourite friends — burgers on the braai, kids playing in the sprinklers, a perfectly chilled beverage in your hand. Sounds like bliss, but who has the time to organise an outdoor bash complete with gourmet boerie rolls and a cocktail bar? With a little bit of clever planning, you do.
Here are some ideas to make sure you get to enjoy your next party as much as everyone else does.
- Prepare family-style food - and lots of it!
The beauty of throwing a backyard party is that you can get away with serving just about any food as long as there’s plenty of it to go around. Fill a table with crudités, dips, chips, salads, bread rolls and burger toppings — and let everyone create their own meal. Store reserves in cooler boxes under the table so you don’t even have to run to the kitchen to replenish the stocks.
And for a dash of dessert fun, serve watermelon slices on sticks. They're easy to make and an instant crowd pleaser. Or you could take it up a notch and create an ice cream bar with an assortment of toppings served in mason jars. But if you’re pushed for time, everyone is likely to be just as happy if you bring out a big bucket of ice filled with store-bought popsicles. The emphasis is on stress-free, remember!
- Set up an old-school cocktail bar
One way to add a sophisticated note to your backyard bash is by offering a selection of stylish beverages. But get yourself out of drinks duty by printing cocktail recipes on card and placing them strategically on a bar cart or side table with all the necessary ingredients and accessories needed for your guests to make their own cucumber gimlet or artisanal G&T.
And for those friends who wouldn’t know their Daiquiri from their Manhattan, fill a big drinks container with a citrus punch or berry lemonade (pre-made the day before, obviously). You can also add a jar with paper straws and cocktail umbrellas for a bit of festive fun, and serve frozen blueberries in an ice bucket to cool drinks.
- Create intimate seating areas
Every host knows that there’s nothing worst then guests standing around awkwardly, but creating enough seating can be tricky if your patio furniture is limited. Rather embrace the relaxed summer vibe and create seating on the floor using picnic blankets and cushions. You could even use second-hand shipping crates with a thin layer of plywood on top for tables.
And instead of making one big seating area, arrange cushions or chairs in smaller areas to allow for more intimate conversations. The best part is that you can use whatever you already have at home.
- Think about your lighting
The great thing about lazy summer braais is that they often spill over into the early or late evening. But bad lighting can really dull the party atmosphere. Harsh lighting can make guests feel like they're sitting under a spotlight, while lighting that is too dim can make conversation - and general activity - difficult. Who wants to be stumbling around in a flower bed after dark?!
Strike the perfect balance with soft overhead lighting in the form of fairy lights or a low watt patio light, and then enhance this with candles or lanterns on surfaces. If you have garden lights make sure to aim them away from where guests will be sitting so they’re not shining directly into people’s faces.
You can make your own lanterns by filling mason jars with sand and sticking a candle in the middle. Or, if you’re planning on having plenty of parties this summer, you can invest in a couple of solar-powered mason jar lights that will add a warm atmospheric glow to any function.
- It’s all in the little details
A good host knows how to take care of their guests every need, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend the whole party stressing over every little detail. With a little bit of preparation, you can make your guests feel like A-list celebrities without needing to hire an events company.
Fill a basket with bug spray, sunscreen and paper fans to keep everyone cool and protected. Place cupcake liners over glasses with a straw stuck in the middle to prevent bugs from dive-bombing people’s drinks. If you’re expecting friends who may not know each other, a great way to help them break the ice is to provide some light entertainment in the form of garden cricket, Jenga, or a Frisbee. It’s the small things that’ll keep your guests talking about your summer party well into next winter.
Why not share some of your favourite party ideas with us in the comments below?