Party Smart!

With these practical tips, make '18 the year of your best-ever backyard bash!
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WHETHER YOU’RE PLANNING A FOURTH of July get-together or a weekend barbecue, you’ve got to face it: Successful outdoor parties don’t just happen; they take planning. With that in mind, Monmouth Health & Life roamed the county pumping the experts for advice on summertime hosting that delights guests—and makes it look easy. Their 18 tips follow.

In Chinese folklore, the number 18 is considered lucky because its pronunciation resembles that of the word meaning “definitely get rich.” We can’t promise that our smart-party counsel will bring you a pot of gold. But will it help your hospitality prosper? Definitely!

1. Dress for comfort.

Guys typically have an easy time choosing what to wear for an outdoor party, but women may be in danger of overthinking. Bring on the sundresses and rompers! “A fit-and-flare dress is always a great option, but it might be best to opt for a cute romper if you’ll be moving around and bending down a lot,” says Angela Secul, owner of Tula the Boutique in Shrewsbury. “When it comes to which shoes you should wear outside, wedges are better than heels—they tend to sink into the grass. A pretty pair of flat gold sandals works too!”

2. Save face.

Ladies, don’t make beauty a hassle. “Summer can be a great time to lighten up your makeup routine,” says Dana Marie Skinner, owner of Andover-based Makeup by Dana Marie. “Skip the foundation and try using a BB cream or just a loose powder to absorb excess oil. And if it’s a particularly hot day, switch to waterproof mascara. Companies like Revlon and Maybelline make them in a range of colors, so you can have fun with your look!”

3. Think of a theme.

Just enjoying guests’ company is fine, but the occasion can be more special if you give it a motif. 1980s attire? Stars and stripes? Think of something fun yet practical, perhaps an idea that you can incorporate into every facet of the event. Luaus work well for summer parties because you can easily turn your backyard into a tropical oasis with artificial floral leis, tiki torches and umbrella covers. Menus and attire can reflect the theme as well.

4. Make sure flowers fit the mood.

If your event is a traditional one—a garden party or an afternoon tea, for instance—tropical flowers may not feel right. In that case, consider using local sunflowers or gladiolus—which give great height to any arrangement. “These flowers are both eye-popping and heat-resistant,” says Susan Whytlaw, owner of Gig Morris Florist in Belmar. “You might be tempted to use flowers that grow in New Jersey gardens, like hydrangeas, peonies or ranunculus, but they wilt quickly when left out in the sun.”

5. Start side dishes early.

The best barbecue and picnic side dishes are those you can prepare ahead of time. “I like to make salads the day before because they achieve a better flavor profile—the ingredients have time to marry, and the dish has time to really chill,” says Patty Sisselman, owner of Shore Catering in Brick. Pasta and grain salads tend to hold up well, she says, as do veggie salads made with tomatoes and cabbage instead of leafy greens.

6. Keep things cool.

If you keep dishes like pasta and potato salads cold as long as possible, they’ll stay appetizing—and be more refreshing on a hot afternoon. “Rather than fill a large bowl with ice to chill your dish, you can use something fun like a blow-up raft, inner tube or toy boat,” recommends Sisselman. “You can add the ice, put your salad bowl on top and keep it chilled—all while dressing up your table with some fun centerpieces.”

7. Pick powerful petals.

Everyone loves a colorful floral centerpiece, but no cut flowers will survive in heat for too long. Floral expert Whytlaw recommends arrangements of heat-resistant flowers such as tropicals. Protea, cymbidium orchids, birds of paradise and anthurium are all great varieties, and add a pop of bright color to any floral grouping. “Tropicals are used to warm climates, since that’s where they typically grow, so they are perfect in the summer heat,” she says.

8. Brief the guests.

It’s a drag to show up for an event unprepared or overdressed, so spare your partygoers that feeling. “When hosting something outdoors like a pool party, you need to let guests know more than for an indoor event,” says Christine Figliuolo at Creations by Christine Events. “On your invitations, include whether you’ll be outside, around the pool or on the grass, so they know what to wear. Also mention if you’ll be providing towels, sunscreen and bug spray so they can come prepared.”

9. Think natural.

Insect repellent containing DEET is fine for your next jungle hike, but for an outdoor bash—near the food—you may wish to consider natural alternatives. Lemon verbena is an excellent substitute for chemical-laden bug spray, and it can be purchased at garden centers like Brock Farms in Freehold or Colonial Nursery in Lincroft. Have your guests rub a few of the leaves on their skin instead of using spray.

10. Let your guests do DJ duty.

Want to add some vintage charm to your party? Pick up a stack of inexpensive vinyls from a local record store (Lofidelic Records in Manasquan or Hold Fast in Asbury Park, for example) and set them up—along with a portable record player— for everyone to browse through and enjoy.

11. Book rentals in advance.

When it comes to renting tables and tents, beat the summer rush and book as far in advance as possible. Says John Nagle, owner of Where’s the Party At? in Spring Lake: “It’s important that people plan ahead to make sure they have enough seating for their guests and that our products will be available when they need them. We have party planners who help our clients identify areas of need they might not have even considered.”

12. Play that funky music.

Save your personal playlists for the gym or commute and put together a string of classic tracks that your guests can sing and dance to. (Hint: The oldies are “goodies” for a reason!) “When my band does outdoor gigs, we play songs that are familiar to the crowd,” says Carolyn Greenberg of Mary’s Basement, a local rock band. “We tend to do a lot of favorites from the ’60s and ’70s, like ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Rock This Town.’ And in New Jersey, you can never go wrong with a little Bruce Springsteen!”

13. Please with a freeze.

Who doesn’t love a slushy? If you’re planning a party, reunion or cookout where both adults and kids will be in attendance, you can’t go wrong with a frozen drink machine. “Frozen beverage machines are a very popular item at our store for rent,” says Nagle, whose company rents the machines. “They allow children to make slushies while grownups get to enjoy a margarita or daiquiri—they’re total crowd pleasers.”

14. Be imaginative with photos.

Take lighting into consideration when photographing your big event outdoors. Local photographer Gina Palermo recommends attaching a lens flare to your DSLR camera and using the bright sun to your advantage. “I also like to reflect natural light off a prism for a rainbow effect,” she says. “It adds a unique touch.”

15. Prepare to be surprised.

Hosts and hostesses aren’t the only ones who can be creative—guests can too! Anne Sauri, owner of the gift boutique White Bliss in Manasquan, tells partygoers that bringing a thoughtful hostess gift is sometimes more fun than the traditional dessert or bottle of wine. “I’ve been recommending the Michel Design Works hostess napkins and hand soap sets to my customers,” she says. “It’s a useful gift, comes in a cute and handy metal holder, and the Lemon Basil soap scent is very popular for summer.” So don’t be thrown if a guest’s clever gift helps make your occasion even more fun. Remember: It’s also nice to receive.

16. Choose cocktails that hydrate.

Alcohol can cause dehydration, but that doesn’t mean you and your guests can’t enjoy a drink on a summer day. If you decide to serve alcoholic beverages at your outdoor soir.e, opt for a cocktail that’s tasty and hydrating (water and juices from fruits and vegetables will do the trick). Local restaurant manager Colleen Hobaugh recommends a batch of “Pineapple Sangria.” It’s made with 2 cups of cut pineapple, 1 orange (sliced), 1 mango (sliced), 1 lime (sliced), 2 cups of pineapple juice, . cup of coconut rum, 1 bottle of white wine and 2 cups of Sprite. Combine ingredients in a large drink dispenser with ice, mix and leave out on the table for guests to enjoy.

17. Be a smart cookie about dessert.

Pre-order a platter of themed sugar cookies to lay out for dessert—they’re an interesting talking point and a treat to eat! Jersey Cookie Girl in Jackson offers custom cookies for many occasions: For your high school graduate’s party, why not custom order cookies with the logo of his or future college? The cookies can come pre-wrapped in plastic bags, so they make for mess-free and delicious party favors as well!

18. Light the way.

Because parties can continue when the sun goes down, your outdoor space needs ample and safe lighting. A portable fire pit provides light and warmth, and it’s perfect for making s’mores. Another option is solar garden lights, which Nicole Rice, of Coastal Décor and Interior Design in Fair Haven, says come on spikes and are easy to add into flowerpots or stick along walkways. “You can also use string lights on pergolas and umbrellas, or battery-operated candles, which now come with remotes and timers so they can be set for certain time increments—in case you forget to turn them off,” she says, adding that they are safer than wax candles and help you to avoid a drippy mess.

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