Sometimes it’s hard to relax and enjoy your own party. There’s a lot to plan – you have to think about catering, where you’re going to put all the guests and how you’re going to decorate the area, how you’re going to handle the crowd when things get lively, and how you’re going to manage the morning after clean-up. In this article we show you how to host – and enjoy – a really successful backyard party.

Outdoor entertaining, either in the backyard or on the veranda, is ideal for summer parties. Your guests will be more relaxed, you needn’t worry about damage to carpets and furniture, and it will be much easier to clean up. Next morning, just pick up the rubbish and hose it all down.

Minimising the work
Unless you have a very wide veranda, consider hiring a marquee (check your phone directory for local hiring firms). If the wind gets up or if it starts to rain, you won’t need to bring the guests indoors. The same company will probably be able to supply tables and chairs, and possibly even glasses, crockery, cutlery, etc. should you require them. One of the most important things to remember though is that the Christmas – New Year period is usually the busiest time of year for these hire companies, so make sure you book well ahead to make sure everything you need is available.

Makeshift tables are fine – if it’s an evening party just cover the table with a cheap PVC tablecloth or old bed sheet – your guests won’t notice in the dark and hopefully will be too busy enjoying themselves anyway.

Extra seating may be provided by garden steps or a wall, or if you look about your yard, perhaps you can create some extra temporary seating by sitting some railway sleepers or thick planks on top of bricks or timber logs.

The best places to hold a party are the places that are difficult to damage and easy to clean. Verandas and carports fit the bill ideally, but if you have neither, any flat surface will suffice. Avoid uneven or rough surfaces though: if light is low (a night time party), or people are drunk, uneven surfaces can be dangerous.

Setting the atmosphere
Decorating for Christmas parties is easy – just hang some tinsel and Christmas decorations on trees and shrubs. For smaller parties, place small decorative touches on the tables (eg. pine cones, small potted plants). Tinsel is relatively cheap, and can be used in a myriad of ways to create a festive atmosphere.

Christmas lights are always attractive and popular – as well as the traditional coloured lights, bud lights in the shape of Christmas trees, reindeers, etc. are inexpensive and readily available from hardware shops. Place them along the edge of verandas and marquees, or hang them in trees. For additional outdoor lighting use garden lighting, or bamboo BBQ torches, which can be readily moved around as required.

Decorating for New Year’s Eve parties – leftover Christmas decorations are fine providing they don’t look tired and bedraggled. Balloons and streamers will add to the festive atmosphere.

How to handle large numbers

  • Issue written invitations and give an RSVP date and contact phone number.
  • Ask a couple of reliable friends to act as unofficial bouncers.
  • Move all valuable garden ornaments and vulnerable pot plants out of the way.
  • Fill plastic garbage bins with ice so guests won’t have to go indoors to retrieve their bottles.
  • Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available.
  • Pre-prepare the food and bring it outdoors as soon as possible so that guests don’t hang about indoors while you’re stuck in the kitchen.
  • Discourage guests from going indoors unless it’s to the bathroom.
  • Keep the doors closed to show which rooms are off-limits (maybe place something in front of the door to discourage guests opening it, but make sure they won’t trip over it in the dark).
  • Make sure the music gets turned down by midnight, unless you have invited your neighbours to attend.
  • Encourage guests to use taxis if they’ve had too much to drink.

Being prepared
  • For daytime parties, you will need to provide some shade. If you’re not using a marquee, consider using large beach or market umbrellas. Even a large tarpaulin or plastic sheet hung up between trees or to the fence will provide good temporary shelter for food and guests.
  • Have sun screen and insect repellent available for your guests.
  • Have ash trays handy so that guests don’t throw their butts in the garden or pool. Small pots or trays filled with sand are useful.
  • Make sure you have plenty of garbage bins and bags on hand.
  • For night time parties, you will need some lighting. (Christmas lights are ideal but a couple of spot lights will also be useful.) Mosquitoes or other insects can also be a problem. It always pays to have some extra insect repellent on hand.

Other Catering Alternatives
  •  Hiring Caterers – This can save you a significant amount of time and effort. It can be relatively inexpensive (per head) depending on the level of catering required. This may sound expensive, but if you consider how much you actually spend on food, including all the little extras, and how much time you spend preparing and cleaning up, then it can be a great alternative. This also means you get time to enjoy the party rather than catering to everyone else’s needs. A popular choice of catering for an outdoor party in the warmer months is spit-roast cooked meat with salads.
  • Use Caterers -Buying Prepared Foods – Many companies will supply these already made up, in whatever amounts you require.
  • Hiring A Spit – This can be cheap and can be a great way to cook large slabs of meat, and will usually provide a focal point around which people gather – just waiting to get sizzling hot, freshly cooked meat.

Protecting the garden
Without appearing too finicky, you may be able to discreetly rope off some areas of the garden. Otherwise you’ll have to resign yourself to repairing any damaged areas later.

Shift as many moveable objects into the garage as you can and cover up sandpits. If you have a small yard and normally keep the car outside, move it to a neighbour’s driveway to protect it from accidental knocks and cigarette burns and to give your guests more outdoor space.

Damaged lawns can look devastating, but they will recover very quickly. At worst you may have to reseed or returf small areas. Otherwise, apply a liquid lawn fertiliser and water frequently for the next few days.
Broken branches will take longer to recover. Trim the branch as neatly as possible, and fertilise and water the plant.
Barbeque grease stains on some types of pavement may be removed using degreasing sprays or other stain removing products (however, it is wise to cook a BBQ in a place away from permanent paving. A gravel surface is ideal around a BBQ. It absorbs any fat that drops, and after a quick rake over, the stain becomes far less obvious).

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