You want to have a nice BBQ. Thoughtful. Civilized. A BBQ that doesn’t end with a mustard stained paper plate in your bushes. According to Jennifer Sutton, a San Francisco-based event designer and planner on Thumbtack, you can make it nice without spending a lot. Just use a bunch of stuff you already own to make a beautiful, sophisticated, completely sensible-for-the-backyard party.
Eclectic is ok.
“Use what you have and don’t be scared to mix and match,” she says. “I usually take stock of what I have in terms of plates, chairs, glasses, and all of that good stuff, and go from there.” The key to mixing and matching, she says, is to make it obvious that’s what you’re doing. “Then everything comes together and it looks purposeful instead of misplaced.”
And don’t stress if you don’t have enough outdoor seating, Jennifer says. “Mix and match with things from inside your house that you wouldn’t normally use outside, like stools, chairs, and benches. Kitchen and dining chairs can easily be moved back inside after and it helps the whole thing feel fun and casual.”
Real plates make it feel fancy.
“You don’t need to use paper plates and plastic forks. Instead, if possible, use real plates and glasses; it makes things look polished. Anything you can use inside, you can usually use outside as well.”
If it makes you nervous to use glass wine glasses, it’s okay to use plastic, she says. “The ones in the photos are plastic and you really can’t tell.”
Add color with centerpieces.
“For outdoor dining, I really like centerpieces with bright colors. Anything that’s really bright and pops against your table setting is the way to go,” Jennifer says. “Sunflowers and greenery are great for any summer party.”
You can also bring out some air plants or succulents and nestle them among the table settings to add a nice touch.
Make the meal family style.
“I love seated family style meals. Just pile all of the food on the table, so everyone can help themselves. You may even have to clear the centerpiece to make enough room and that’s okay.”
“Keep the menu simple,” Jennifer says. “If you’re dining outdoors the last thing you want to do as a host is run back inside to grab or prep things. I think aside from grilled mains, it’s good to rely on fruit and salad and things that can be created ahead of time. It will make your life a lot easier.”
Set up a drink station.
“Having water on hand and keeping everyone hydrated is really important in the summer,” Jennifer says. “Setting up a drink station is a good complement to grilling outside; people can grab a drink, hang out and walk around—they don’t feel like they need to be seated to get their drink.”
“If you’re planning on serving drinks, a batch cocktail that’s light and easy to serve out of a canister is easiest,” she adds. “You don’t want to have to hand-mix drinks.” You also want to have a booze-free option available. “Lemonade is always a crowd favorite that works for adults and kids and says ‘summer’.”
Add ambiance with lighting.
“Even if it’s daytime, outdoor lighting can add cool ambiance,” Jennifer says. “Bistro lights are a good go-to, but if you don’t have an outlet that’s easily accessible, putting candles in hurricane holders is a way to class it up and bring some ambiance.”
Don’t be shy about the blankets and bug spray.
“Try to think of what you’re guests are going to need throughout the party,” Jennifer says. “If you live somewhere where it gets chilly at night, keep blankets on hand. If you’re in an area where there are mosquitos, place a fan on the table to keep them away from the food and put out bug wipes and bug spray. If you’re going to be out in the sun, have sunscreen on hand. Your guests aren’t going to know what to expect, so try to guess what they might need. It makes people feel at home and comfortable.”
Jennifer Sutton is the owner of One Fine Day, a full-service wedding and event planning and design company that helps put on gorgeous events throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Napa/Sonoma Valley, and Santa Cruz County. You can find her on Thumbtack.