Summer Entertaining: Throwing a BBQ Party for a Crowd

Summer is the season of relaxed entertaining. Bringing the party outdoors creates a memorable setting with each garden inspiring its own style.  From a suburbian backyard, to a tiny urban terrace to a vast country acreage, the outdoors offers a canvas for creative entertaining. No one throws a better party than my garden club friends.  To highlight garden party guidelines, join me  at our recent garden club social,  held on a member’s gorgeous farm property.

1- Pick a theme imageHaving a theme helps from selecting the invitation, choosing the menu and guiding the decor.  The invitation is the first glimpse your guests will have of your event.  It’s a great way to set the tone of your party.  Even if you are throwing a potluck party, your guests can choose their dish to suit the theme.  Have fun with it!  Being that our event was on a farm, we chose a BBQ theme with a fun invitation to match. Judging from record breaking attendance, everyone loves BBQ!

2-  Move things around: Don’t be afraid to reorganize your outdoor space.  If you’re throwing a large party, use your whole yard.  Create conversation areas.  Establish flow by shifting the usual placement of furniture.  Take advantage of views or shade.  imageYou might even bring some indoor furniture outside. Provide comfortable seating in multiple areas.  Set up different places where guests can set down their plates to eat.  Provide  sit down and stand up options.  We used our host’s regular outdoor table and added a few large round rentals for extra sit down dining  and a few bar height tables for those preferring to stand.imageimage

3-  Lighting: Lighting is one of the most affordable ways to add ambiance to outdoor parties.  Start your event at dusk and watch as the lighting creates a magical glow as the sun goes down.  Engage lanterns, mason jars, strings of lights and candles of all kinds into creating mood lighting.  Think of highlighting paths and social areas such as the bar and food stations with extra lighting.imageimageimageimage For an Oktoberfest event I used glass beer steins as candle holders. Look around and repurpose things you already have on hand as candle holders.  If keeping bugs at bay is a must, add citronella candles and tikki torches to provide lighting and bug control.

4-  Work the Theme: For a cohesive look, let the theme guide the decor. Look around the house for anything that fits the theme and use it to decorate and serve a practical purpose too.  Think outside the box.  An antique farm cart was enlisted to hold ice and chill drinks at our party but  a wheelbarrow could have been a fun option also.   A garden urn could serve as an ice bucket.   Hors d’oeuvres could be staged from a birdbath.  The unexpected provides a surprise element to delight the senses.image For our theme, inexpensive supermarket pots of daisies were wrapped in bandanas or in burlap with red and white gingham ribbon. image imageTables were draped in burlap and makeshift “curtains” were made of the same burlap to create a backdrop to the bar area.  Cheap straw cowboy hats were brilliantly introduced into the decor. imageimage Add suble touches with things you already have around to fit  the theme. Crock vessels held big bouquets of sunflowers throughout.image

5-  Set Up a Drink Station: Setting up a self-serve, well-stocked bar area is essential to a great party.   Having a signature drink, Moscow Mules  in our case, is a fun way to carry the theme into the bar area.  Our signature drink, featured on the invitation, was premixed in large dispensers  with a massive bowl of precut limes waiting for guests to help themselves.  imageThe drink was served in the same Mason jar mugs found on the invitation. They looked fabulous lined up on the bar en masse and became part of the themed décor.  Include non alcoholic options and lots of water.  Guests will consume more drinks in summer to stay hydrated.  Making the bar self serve frees you up for more socializing.  image  A wooden bowl heaping full of peanuts-in-the-shell was perched on a nearby bale of hay for a fun twist on the bar nut bowl.  Food as décor!   imageOther drinks were loaded in that fun  ice filled antique cart. Situate the bar in an area away from the food to encourage guests to move around and mingle.image

6- Themed Food: We hired a fun BBQ food truck to provide the hot foods and made our own appetizers, salads and desserts.  The truck became part of the party décor, right in the middle of the action!  The BBQ truck ignited conversation with many of the guests attempting to wrangle the secret recipes for the rubs that made Captain Dick’s brisket, ribs and chicken so darn good!imageimageimageThe appetizers were set up in a different area from the main food and the bar to encourage flow and mingling.

7-  Music: Don’t forget to add music.  It is a great ambiance mood setter.  For an intimate setting, you might prefer the sounds of nature. image

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Here’s to a fun garden party of your own creation this summer.  Cheers!

13 thoughts on “Summer Entertaining: Throwing a BBQ Party for a Crowd

  1. What a great post Johanne, I think we think the same when it comes to entertaining :). Love all the tips for outdoor parties. I liked the idea of those bandanas on the pots, it really adds a pop of color! Moscow Mules? Now we’re talking….. where was this party held? Gorgeous stone and beautiful surroundings, extra lights around definitely adds pizazz I’ll bet it was a lot of fun.

    • It was in Chester County, PA. Our club is a lot of fun. We have this outdoor year end social annually and it never ceases to amaze me what the committees come up with! I am serving as president this year and just got to show up. Email me at when you have some July dates to meet at Chanticleer.

      Sent from my iPad


    • Thanks for dropping by the garden party Nancy. I can’t take credit for any of the great decorations this time around but wanted to share the inspiration! It was fun!

      Sent from my iPad


  2. Pingback: Top 10 Reader Favorites of 2015 | French Gardener Dishes

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