How to Throw a Great Home Patio Party

Summer evenings call for alfresco entertaining. After all, nothing's easier-and more budget-friendly-than inviting guests over for a casual buffet-style meal in the backyard. Here's what you need to know to plan the perfect summer patio party.

PLAN AHEAD

  • Give guests a few weeks' notice, and start just before dusk, when the sun isn't overwhelming. A Saturday party will give you more time to run pre-party errands.
  • Plan a rain date-or make sure your house is clean and tidy so the party can move indoors if it rains.
  • Save on postage and stationary by using online invitations.
  • Plan a menu well in advance so you can buy or order what you need at your leisure, not in a panic the night before. One simple approach is to pick a loose party theme and let the menu and (optional) decorations emerge from that. For example, Asian Fusion might result in restaurant-takeout sushi, supermarket-frozen spring rolls and homemade chicken satay, with Chinese paper lanterns and exotic ginger flowers for decorations.

SAVE YOURSELF SOME STRESS-AND MONEY

  • Including ready-made, frozen, or restaurant-takeout foods in your menu can save you time and effort. Even the most accomplished home chefs often employ these shortcuts when hosting a party. To create a more sophisticated vibe, be sure to artfully present convenience foods by garnishing and/or re-plating. Here are some easy ideas.
  • Scoop readymade dips into pretty bowls and garnish them with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar or handful of chopped herbs for restaurant-style flair.
  • Add pizzazz to inexpensive frozen pizzas by heating them outdoors on the barbecue.
  • Arrange takeout sushi on a large white platter with a small dish of soy sauce and floret of wasabi (dispense it from a cake decorating piping bag). Vegetarian options are usually the most popular.
  • Serve deep-fried Asian foods like spring rolls, egg rolls and croquettes (whether frozen and reheated, or restaurant takeout) on a serving platter lined with a banana leaf. (You can find these leaves frozen at Asian grocery stores or fresh from many florists. When buying from a florist, be sure to wash and rinse the leaf to remove pesticides.)
  • Dispense condiments into ceramic bowls equipped with wooden spoons or mini spatulas. This will add foody flair to even the most basic burger menu. (So will offering gourmet toppings like store-bought pesto, chutney, salsa, peanut sauce or olive tapenade.)

FINALLY, ADD AMBIANCE
Dining and socializing under the stars is appealing enough that you don't need a lot of extras. (Although for larger get-togethers consider renting extra seating from a party rental center, or borrowing from friends.) Just string up the patio lights and display some candles in hurricane lanterns. Decorate your buffet table with sprigs of flowers or herbs set in bud vases or juice glasses. Voila: it's party time!

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