When clowns and pony rides aren't enough, then what?
May 13, 2006 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for easy outdoor party themes and ideas. Do you have a memory of a good outdoor party? What makes an outdoor gathering memorable for you?

I finally have our font and back yards where I'm ready to have guests come, it's gotten warm enough, and I'm suddenly feeling social instead of socially retarded. Thus, I'd like to have a small outdoor party.

I'm looking at 13 guests plus the three adults and one toddler that lives here, and we've already stocked up on a case of burgers and hotdogs. Ideally we'll have chicken, corn on the cob, and baked potatoes too.

Break out Uno and board games? Roast marshmallows on the fire pit? Make a fancy dessert or punch? Do I make a little favor?

Ask me to throw a toddler's birthday, and I'm gold. Trying to do something cool for adults seems a bit harder.
posted by FunkyHelix to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get some unusual, high-quality beer.

Also, make s'mores.

Could you put up a volleyball net?
posted by ludwig_van at 6:19 PM on May 13, 2006

In deference to Napolean Dynamite, how about pinatas representing specific political personalities?
posted by Operation Afterglow at 6:20 PM on May 13, 2006

Our neighbors always rent some cheesy gambling accessories (slot machines, poker table, roulette wheel) from a local party store and host a Vegas night over Labor Day weekend each year. It's a special "no one actually loses any real money", as they hand out a certain amount of monopoly money to everyone at the beginning of the party.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:37 PM on May 13, 2006

posted by Dick Paris at 6:43 PM on May 13, 2006

If it's going to go into the evening, colored or other kinds of lights (even Christmas lights -- might be kind of charming off season) festooned about (perhaps in a tree or some shrubs) would add a sense of festivity.

You could get a croquet set. (On preview, Dick Paris beat me to it).

Punch is an excellent notion...there are lots of great punch recipes in this book, and certainly many more for free online -- though I've also found for picnics that simply mixing up a lot of lime-sugar-mint a la mojitos is a winner; add the rum per drink to make the mojitos, and the non-drinkers can still enjoy the mixture over ice with seltzer.
posted by BT at 6:44 PM on May 13, 2006

Bounce house.
posted by Orb2069 at 6:58 PM on May 13, 2006

1. Bocce, it's fun and easy enough for anyone to play. (Basically a cross between horseshoes and bowling. You can buy a nice beginners set at Target.)

2. Two old fashioned wash tubs. Fill one with ice and beer, the other with ice and watermelon.

3. Barbecue.

Simple, and fun.
posted by oddman at 7:14 PM on May 13, 2006

Depends on the time of day...

Being from the South, we look for any excuse to have a good outdoor party.

- Music (good... fun... chill... music)
- Tiki Tourches
- Too Many drinks (Have a wiiiiide selection of everything from Diet Coke to Lemonade to Miller Light)
- Comfortable chairs (You wanna see a party end fast... put some crappy chairs in your backyard)
- An "inviting" seating arrangement (Have the tables close together and assemble them in a circular-type pattern... you don't want people to feel as though they are physically on the outside... cause then they will be emotionally on the outside)
- Plenty of Desserts (Brownies, cookies, peanuts M&M's)

This basically needs to be a downscaled version of a wedding reception.
posted by bamassippi at 7:17 PM on May 13, 2006

Fire pit. especially if the party has a chance to go into the evening - many of the adults will end up by the fire pit either drinking, throwing little twigs and branches into the fire, or both. It makes for good stories and conversation, and brings good memories for most people. I don't think I've ever been to a bad party with fire.
posted by true at 7:17 PM on May 13, 2006

Walled off area awy from the kids containing the unholy trinity: sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
posted by lalochezia at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2006

(rental?) Hot tub (and lots of misplaced bikini's).

An enclosed tent for... uh, aromatherapy.

Waterfight (garden hoses trump any hand-held self-contained water dispensation device - host's/host's kid's privilege).

Something that effectively discourages mosquitos once the sun goes down.
posted by porpoise at 7:38 PM on May 13, 2006

Second croquet. I'm ALWAYS red.
posted by hermitosis at 8:06 PM on May 13, 2006

Seconding bocce!
posted by hooray at 8:14 PM on May 13, 2006

Last year I went to a whole bocce-themed night.

Before sundown: Bocce on the beach
Duskish: Bocce-dinner, with all round foods (some were cross-sections of spheres, but most were spherical)
After dark: Watched the movie Blackball inside. Stupid but good fun.
posted by whatzit at 8:32 PM on May 13, 2006

For some reason all the best parties I remember from when I was a kid had lawn darts being thrown, and now that I'm an adult for some reason I always miss them when I'm at outdoor parties.

I'd suggest good BBQ (even if you have to buy it pre-made) or fajitas, lots of beer and booze, horse shoes or the like, a slip and slide if you don't have a pool, lots of seating, and of course I second tikis and good music.
posted by sublivious at 8:59 PM on May 13, 2006

Cover the food!

I'll say it again: Cover the food!

The worst outdoor events in my memory always involve bugs like flies and ants getting into everything.

They sell these really cute mesh domes you can put over the dishes, they work awesome if someone gets up to go inside for a bit or whatever.

Another vote for the firepit and croquet ideas. One of my friends used to project movies on the side of the house on nice summer nights.
posted by SassHat at 10:43 PM on May 13, 2006

I'm a bit of a freak, but my ideal party (I could never get enough guys who'd do it) would be a Home Brewed Street Fighter 2 tournament.

However, that being said, make it a "reading" party, where everyone is invited to bring something short and interesting to read, be it something they wrote, something they like, or something they'll think everyone else will like.
posted by allthewhile at 10:47 PM on May 13, 2006

Best outdoor party I ever attended was a Cochon de Lait themed party in Atlanta some years back. We actually roasted a pig (a lot of work), had a jazz band, an outdoor shooter station, and 200 or so people. Your party seems much smaller, but here are some lessons learned that might still apply.
  • If your party will run after dark, and be mostly outside, a full moon is a big help. Plan your schedule accordingly, including a rain date.
  • If you are doing some kind of fire, your town may require a permit for outdoor burning. Smoke and embers you create from cooking outdoors may be a nuisance or even a hazard to neighbors, so be aware.
  • If you're grilling for 20 people or more, you need to have enough grill capacity to get a serious amount of food hot in a limited time, and someone who can handle doing this, with an eye to maintaining safety and sanitation conditions. A small gas grill that is OK for a small family isn't up to cooking for crowds. I've been to summer parties where the menu was supposed to be grilled burgers and hot dogs, but the grill "facilities" were just not up to the job. Cooking in a fire pit takes planning and the right equipment.
  • Plan for lots of ice, then double your planned buy. Coolers, wash tubs, and drinks need a lot more ice than anyone imagines.
  • Plan for trash. Have several big trash barrels in the yard, on the deck, etc. Buy contractor weight bags, and get some help to bag up and set out the trash before the party is over. If your town does recycling of bottles, cans, etc., plan accordingly. Check garbage barrels during the party, and empty and reline any that are getting full, as people will avoid using ones that are "near full."
  • Don't plan to have a lot of people dancing on a raised deck. Decks aren't made for this.
  • Renting a screen tent makes sense, for eating, bug retreat, etc. But be careful about using it as a weather shelter.
  • Plan to mow your lawn, and treat for bugs, in plenty of time for the party. Mowing and watering the day of the party is not a good idea. Have plenty of insect repellent handy.
  • You put enough food and water in people over a long enough time, and your bathrooms are going to get a workout. Plan accordingly (extra TP, towels, garbage container, plunger, etc).
  • Games are good before dark, but after dark, outside, you've got to be more careful. People getting hurt kill the party. So, don't plan to host the backyard Olympics. Even Frisbee gets out of hand pretty easily. If you're having Game Day anyway, plan your parking so there is an injury transport vehicle ready to move quickly, and a driver who knows where to go. Also, 911 needs to be able to get in and out if you have a real emergency. Here's a site with a bunch of barbecue party game suggestions.

posted by paulsc at 12:06 AM on May 14, 2006

Sumo Suits.
posted by porpoise at 10:44 AM on May 14, 2006

I have backyard parties all the time - I've had parties as small as 10 - 15 people and as large as 75 (that one we roasted a whole goat, dressed up in vaguely tropical/Ernest Hemingway in Cuba outfits and had mojitos) and really, as long as you have a fire (I have a chiminea now instead of a firepit and it seems to be just as popular) and lots of drinks, you're fine. For a small crowd like you're describing, I usually take out two different colored coolers, one for alcohol, one for soda & water & so on - just tell the kids, you get your drinks out of the red cooler. Set up a long table near the grill, cover it with a cheap plastic tablecloth & bring out all the things you will need to grill, condiments & food as soon as you can without anything spoiling, since it's a drag to be walking back and forth to the kitchen endlessly when the party is just getting started. Do get some of those screen things to cover food. Use paper plates & burn them in the fire later. Make sure you have a big trash can and a big recycling can for beer bottles. As for games, badminton always seems to be wildly popular but once it gets dark people like to just sit around the fire and talk. I have tiki torches and I put out tons of candles, candle lanterns & so on. The other thing that I've found is good is if you can string an extension cord outside to hook up a CD player - I put a clip lamp by it and while I usually leave it off during the party, it's helpful for finding CDs and really helpful during cleanup. Oh, and get an ashtray. I use a plastic flowerpot filled with playground sand.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:09 PM on May 14, 2006

Petanque/boule could be good - incredibly easy to play, and most people get better at it the more booze they drink. Other than that, you can never go wrong with a nice bonfire and some fireworks.

Break out Uno and board games?

If I saw my host approach with board games under his arm, I would leave immediately. Dunno if your guests would feel the same way, but worth bearing in mind!
posted by jack_mo at 6:58 PM on May 15, 2006

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