"Staging" for and hosting an all ages backyard party
May 21, 2015 7:55 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I will be hosting a backyard party soon. I'm putting down fresh mulch this weekend and we're dead heading the spent spring flowers. I've cleaned up the weeds and bastard maple volunteers. What else should we go to be good backyard hosts?

Party is three weeks away, I think. I'm doing some fertilizing the lawn this weekend and the week of the party, our gardener will spruce things up with some potted flowers.

Party is mostly adults, but with kids ranging from a couple of months old to about seven years. We'll have some backyard games, and there's some room to run around. No grilling this time.

I'm not trying to bean plate this, but never having hosted a party with an outdoor element before, I wonder whether backyard impresarios have any tips.

For instance, music outside--yea or nay? Should there be food set out both inside and outside? Same for drinks?

How do I make the lawn look its best--should it be mowed the day of, or before? Is it best to refrain from watering that day, so the ground is not soggy, or will a watering perk the lawn up and make it feel fresh?

Citronella? Provide sun screen?

Any best practices would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes on the citronella and sun screen. Mow a couple of days before, don't mwater that day depends on how much you usually water and when.

Citronella sure, sun screen yes, shady area for kids/toys.

I'd also have a couple of box fans blowing; keep airflow going and keep bugs and mosquitoes away.

Markers for putting names on glasses, etc.
posted by tilde at 8:02 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mow the lawn a day or even two before, not the day of. Even if you bag your clippings, you don't want people tracking grass around. I wouldn't water the day of; it'll be too damp.

I'd suggest food & drinks stationed at a couple places throughout the yard, to encourage milling about & intermingling. Things stationed inside might not be found by many people. Opinion: if it's an outdoor party, commit to that. If the party is extending into the evening, think about lighting. Candles? Torches? Lanterns? Standard floodlights can be a little inhospitable. Make garbage/recycling easy and obvious, indoors and out.

Bug spray and sunscreen readily available are an excellent idea. If mosquitoes are an issue, an oscillating fan does wonders to disperse them over a smallish patio area, at least. Yes to music; yes to lawn games.
posted by jeffjon at 8:03 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have enough places to sit. Though a lot of people are okay with sitting right down on the lawn, there are those who might have trouble getting back up, or are wearing nice clothes, or just prefer a chair. Also, places to set down food when they're seated. Balancing food and drinks in your lap can be a pain.
posted by xingcat at 8:06 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

No water, and fresh-mowed grass leaks chlorophyll onto everybody's shoes, so I'd aim for a day or two ahead of time.

Plenty of chairs or non-chair places to sit (logs, benches, etc) and tables to set food/drink on, but not necessarily as a table-and-chairs set. You're trying to recreate your living room (chairs, couches, end tables, coffee tables for everybody milling around) not your dining room (table with 8 chairs for 8 people and their meals).
posted by aimedwander at 8:07 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a small yard in town, so I host indoor/outdoor parties. No music outside, but music inside with the windows open does carry. Bottles in a cooler on the back porch, cups and bar in the kitchen. Hot food in the kitchen or by the grill, cold food on the dining room table. Milling around space is kitchen, living room, and back yard. If you had a much larger yard, you could move the whole thing outside, but then it becomes more like planning a picnic in the park than a house party (more serving tables, more ice, more trash cans, more space, possible need for an awning sunshade, and maybe bug-covers for the food, etc.)
posted by aimedwander at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2015

Conveniently located trash cans for both food and can/bottle recycling. With spare bags for both.
posted by stachemaster at 8:20 AM on May 21, 2015

If you do put a dish outside, use a food tent.
posted by invisible ink at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Fill a large container with ice and then throw in water spritzers. You can get small ones at Target in the travel size section for $1.00. Don't do water guns! The kids will drive you nuts! But the spritzers are just enough water for a pleasant cool down without a soak and the children and adults love them.

Yes to sunscreen, citronella, and providing food both indoors and out.

Music outdoors is great if you don't have neighbors who will hate you for it.

Set up a few outdoor games for the kids and have plenty of water around for drinking.
posted by myselfasme at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2015

I've done these a lot. People have it. Bug spray in both the super-killer (DEET) and not-super-killer (skin-so-soft) varieties. Sunscreen for adults and children. Look for wasp nests and other weird insect populations and handle them ahead of time. Get rid of standing water that will become mosquito breeding grounds. Have a rain plan (cover) as well as a blinding sun plan (shade). If you're going to use paper plates/napkins, have a wind plan. Can be as simple as a rock that you put on a pile of napkins. Having drinks for adults/kids outside in a bucket with ice is always fun (lots of assorted juiceboxes and sodas/seltzers depending what people want) have a bin nearby to put recycling. Have an outdoor trash can/compost/whatever you do. Mark it clearly. Keep on top of emptying the trash. Even if your fridge has an icemaker, you'll want to purchase ice most likely. If you have birdfeeders, fill them.

I usually think it's good to have some sit down tables outside (picnic table for the kids if you can work it, there are some nice folding ones you can get cheapish) for people to put food down and eat on. I'm a fan of music if you have some speakers (i.e. not just an iphone), but just backgroundy stuff. Some of this depends on your neighbors. Speaking of them, it's manners to let them know if you're having a biggish outdoor party and make sure you have a plan for how/where people will park if they don't all fit in your driveway.

Kids tend to enjoy basic stuff like random bocce, soccer balls, big inflatable balls for the littler kids, beanbag tic tac toe. Less fun are longer games that require rules that need explaining (badminton, croquet) unless everyone is playing. I've found that some parents are really hands off with their kids at an outdoor event and some are less so. Make sure any kid hazards you have are well marked or cordoned off. If there are parts of the house that are off limits, mark that clearly. If you have babies attending, let parents know where they can change them.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Those big citronella candles or torches are great. Stick them slightly out of the way so people don't have to chase their kids away from them -- behind a row of chairs adults will be sitting in, say. Lots of bug spray!

One thing that has worked well here is two coolers -- one with assorted non-alcoholic beverages, and one with the beers and coolers.

I have never ever hinted at "BYOB" and still people BYOB pretty regularly -- your friends may vary -- but even if you don't want and aren't serving wine, say, it's good to have glasses and corkscrews for it at the ready. And extra fridge space for the excess beer. Lots of ice.

I don't like music; you can't hear it if there are very many people -- or, if you can hear it, it makes it hard to hear people.

I put serve-yourself-a-plate-of-this food out inside near the nearest door -- I have used clean new plastic "under bed" storage boxes and filled them with ice and placed food in that -- and bring bowls of chips etc outside. Lots of little tables are better than one big table.

My favourite yard party was a "grilled cheese party" with a boatload of cheeses, breads, and various fillings; people assembled them in the kitchen, and brought them outside where some panini presses were set up. Everybody ate really well, and I didn't have to do anything to serve stuff.
posted by kmennie at 8:32 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Blowing bubbles is a really fun outdoor activity for both kids and adults.
posted by apennington at 9:19 AM on May 21, 2015

For games, you can't go wrong with Cornhole. Someone you know may already have a set they can bring.
posted by jquinby at 9:22 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you don't have enough chairs ask people to bring their own - almost every one has portable camp chairs these days.
posted by amanda at 9:26 AM on May 21, 2015

Yes to citronella candles and bug spray. Also heavy coasters or something else you can hold down napkins and light items with in case of a breeze. Kid games should be things that involve no projectiles or light ones - bubbles and bean bag/cornhole are good as others have mentioned.

Also I went to a party once where they put these little smoldering incense sticks in the ground in the bush/plant bed areas and my 4 year old burned the shit of her hand when she touched it because it looked like a stick. So I vote no on those :-)
posted by freecellwizard at 9:26 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes to bubbles. Especially big bubbles. Had a lot of fun last year at a party, I think with one of these.
posted by radioamy at 9:59 AM on May 21, 2015

Re: kids: Is there stuff for the kids to climb on? Is there stuff they will want to climb on that you need to put away? Try to look at your setup the way a bored 7-year-old would, and think of all the breakable/sharp stuff that they might be tempted by, and move that out of reach or into storage.

Things that might be good to have:

If you have an expanse of smooth concrete (or a sidewalk) that's out of the way, sidewalk chalk is a great pastime.
A swing you could hang from a sturdy tree would also be fun.
DVDs (or Netflix or a cartoon cable channel) they can watch if it rains.
A large box (like a refrigerator or appliance box) if you had one, would be an instant, and disposable clubhouse.
A large plastic box filled with play sand and plastic pouring/building things is good for all ages.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on May 21, 2015

We never knew we had wasps until we hosted a barbecue. We'd played out on the deck for weeks and never seen but one or two stray flying bugs. So maybe bring out a plate of hot meat a few days ahead of time and see if you get swarmed? Then you'll still have time to hunt them down and get rid of them.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Will things continue through sunset and after dark? If so, consider citronella torches to keep the skeeters away (tall ones out of kids reach), and stringing up some pretty lights.

If it's warm where you are, you could tell the kids to bring swimsuits and set up an oscillating sprinkler.
posted by amaire at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2015

If you're going to have kids there I highly encourage you NOT to fertilize the week of the party. You don't want kids rolling around on lawn chemicals (or worse, the baby you mentioned crawling on them). Plus you don't want those chemicals being tracked into your house when people go in to use the restroom, get more soda, etc. Sure, fertilize this week, and then maybe again the week after the party (which will perk up your lawn and repair any damage done during the party).
posted by vignettist at 12:21 PM on May 21, 2015

If there are many kids under 5, consider getting extra cups for them that are smaller, or a case of juice boxes.
posted by bq at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2015

Make sure lots of people know where the bathrooms are. A string of party lights is a good way to keep the bathroom well-lit and easy to find when nice people turn out the lights. Got beach umbrellas or a canopy? If it's hot, those are nice, not critical.

At our house, we love the firebowl in the back yard. It's fun to hang out by a fire. We have a stack of fleece blankets in case it gets cold and people still want to be outside.
posted by theora55 at 3:25 PM on May 21, 2015

Go to the dollar store or Target/Walmart and load up on a bunch of glow bracelets. You can usually find 15 for a dollar if you look. Target has them in that dollar bin section.

Break those out for the kids after sunset. It turns a nice evening into something a little magical.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:36 PM on May 21, 2015

For lighting, my friends use strands of Christmas twinkle lights, either white or colored. It's enough to see by, but not enough to blind people as they get used to the dark.
posted by CathyG at 7:24 AM on May 24, 2015

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