Advance planning in the spring leads to a summer party yard
Summer parties have a lot of inherent advantages. Homeowners generally have much more space in their yards than inside their homes. The range of party activities you can plan can include outdoor games, space for dancing and eating, as well as campfires.
But there is still much to consider before you throw that outdoor graduation party, baby shower or neighborhood gathering. What you plan to serve those guests is, of course, integral. However, you also have to think about whether you have appropriate seating, how you plan to entertain all who attend and even how you plan to protect them from flying pests.
Before you even issue the invitations, survey your outdoor space with a critical eye and make sure you can comfortably seat and feed whomever you invite.
If storage space is a major consideration for you, Lurvey's Garden Center in Des Plaines now stocks a eucalyptus wood dining table that -- when not in use -- folds down into a compact unit and it also stores the accompanying chairs, said Scott Goczkowski, general manager. The beautiful set also comes with a fabric cover for protection.
Teak wood tables with composite tops are another option Lurvey's offers for those who don't worry about storing their tables away when not in use.
Lurvey's is delving into outdoor and porch furnishings with added fervor. Seasonal lounge chairs and tables, along with cabinets, decorative planters, tabletop and free-standing fountains, outdoor canvas paintings and Mud Pie dishware and serving pieces are now available.
The days when homeowners sufficed with furnishing their outdoors with a dining table and chairs are gone. Today many homeowners opt to use comfortable, cushioned sofas and loungers, grouped around ottomans, end tables or firepits or fire tables, in addition to their patio dining sets.
Oftentimes these seating areas are covered by huge, cantilevered umbrellas to shelter partygoers from the sun.
"Deep seating sets, sheltered by large umbrellas during daytime hours, encourage a relaxed atmosphere, particularly when they surround a firepit," said Dan Mayer, owner of Northwest Metalcraft of Arlington Heights.
"Homeowners can buy either wood-burning or gas-powered firepits today and they are wildly popular. We even carry some now that you can cook over like you are out in the middle of the woods, using tripod cooking rigs.
"Many women don't like the smell of smoke, so they choose to have a fireplace fueled by either propane or natural gas -- and we put stones, ceramic logs, broken glass or geometric shapes in the (outdoor) fireplace to enhance the look of the fire. We are even able to run the gas line from the house if the homeowner wants to use natural gas," Mayer added. "It can be really magical to sit outside, especially around a firepit or fireplace, and have a great conversation with your friends."
And if you invest in torches, urns or lanterns that burn alcohol gel or natural gas, you can make your yard look like a resort. They really look cool and add to the ambience, Mayer said.
Some homeowners are also investing in grilling islands that allow friends to sit around the cooking action and converse with the chef.
"Some people really love to add to the atmosphere in this way. They are letting their imaginations run wild when deciding which areas of the patio to furnish," he added.
Most of these grilling islands are built-in and homeowners simply cover them in the winter. Some, however, are equipped with refrigerators, which Mayer suggests they move inside during the cold and snowy months.
Other homeowners are choosing to stick with their traditional charcoal or gas grills or are adding pellet grills or Kamodo Joe smokers to their outdoor arsenal. Kamodo Joes are fueled by lump charcoal or flavored wood chunks and can be used to smoke roasts, turkeys and chickens slowly over a low heat.
Pellet grills like those made by Memphis, can be used for controlled, indirect cooking. You can set the temperature like an oven, control it with Wi-Fi and even use included probes to monitor the temperature of what you are cooking.
Before the party
Once you have your seating and menu planned, start preparing the environment (i.e. your yard). Two or three days before the party, cut the grass. Then consider hiring a professional mosquito prevention service like Mosquito Hunters of Chicago.
Mosquito Hunters will come to your home before a special event and spray your bushes, trees and grass with an environmentally responsible treatment to make sure your event is largely pest-free, said Nick Sorgani, general manager of Mosquito Hunters.
"The carbon dioxide and odors given off by you and your guests attract mosquitoes to your party. That is why an unprotected gathering can become an all-you-can-eat mosquito buffet," Sorgani said. "Pesky mosquitoes can quickly ruin a party by forcing your guests to go home or hide inside. You also don't want to expose guests to mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus and Zika and other diseases caused by fleas and ticks. So think ahead and have your outdoor party space treated to keep unwelcome guests away."
How you plan to entertain your guests is the next consideration.
You can tie your menu into a theme like having a Mexican fiesta or a Hawaiian luau or a ribfest. And then you can make sure your planned games, if you want to have any, also tie in.
It is amazing the array of items you can rent. Besides tables, chairs and tents, you can rent inflatable movie screens, carnival games, disco balls, bubble machines, karaoke machines, mini-golf sets, volleyball sets, one-on-one electronic hoops games, dunk tanks, chandeliers, bars, dance floors and fountains.
You can also obtain a variety of novelty food machines such as nacho machines, pizza and pretzel warmers, cotton candy makers, shaved ice machines, hot dog steamers, popcorn machines and soft serve ice cream machines.
Simply search for party rental stores in or near your ZIP code.
You can relieve yourself of a huge amount of the work if you hire a professional to do the cooking and deliver the drinks. And if you choose the right professional package, the food's preparation can double as the entertainment.
Weber Grill restaurants, which are owned by the same people who make the iconic Weber Kettle and a wide range of other grills and smokers, offer a Weber On Wheels (WOW) catering package in which they deliver Weber Kettles to your site and grillmasters to grill for your backyard party, company picnic, wedding, graduation celebration, family reunion or birthday party.
"On-site grilling parties are an action station component for your catered event," said Lauren Rullo, sales and marketing manager for Weber Grill Restaurant. "We bring out grilling experts, along with our portable grilling station, and produce fire-inspired cooking on the spot. Your event will be the talk of the summer as we bring the same standards of service from the restaurants to your home, office or park."
And you can't beat the fact that the party hosts can enjoy the celebration alongside their guests. They aren't tied to the grill or smoker or trapped inside preparing those side dishes. Weber sends a grillmaster, a supervisor and an assistant to make sure everything is seamless.
"We offer a variety of party packages, ranging from a Build-Your-Own Burger Bar, to barbecue favorites, or even our signature dishes such as teriyaki skirt steak, bourbon-glazed grilled salmon and, of course, New York strip steaks," Rullo said.
The options within each party package are wide. The Build-Your-Own Burger Bar package, for instance, allows you the option of including turkey, chicken or veggie burgers, along with the conventional beef burgers. Toppings and cheeses abound with this popular package.
Those who choose the Barbecue package get the choice of chicken, ribs or pulled pork. Beef brisket can be added for an extra per person charge. Sides included are bourbon-baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread, Rullo said.
The Fire-Inspired Backyard Party package allows guests both beer can chicken and skirt steak. Sides include seasonal vegetables, salad, mashed potatoes and pretzel rolls with cheddar butter.
Finally, there is the Signature Party package. It is very popular with outdoor weddings and includes both grilled New York steak and plank-grilled bourbon salmon. Sides included are Caesar salad, Yukon Gold potatoes, asparagus and pretzel rolls with cheddar butter.
"We are always happy to customize a package or menu for your event," Rullo added, "as we want all of our on-site grilling events to be exactly what our hosts had in mind when planning their party."
Find details about the service under "catering" at www.webergrillrestaurant.com.
As for the liquid refreshments, Weber is happy to provide a bartender for an extra cost, but they recommend party hosts contact Binny's event-planning service for assistance with what to purchase. Binny's will even deliver everything you need (including mixers and pop) for a flat fee.
The liquor store chain also offers advice on which craft beers to stock, which wines are particularly popular, and which liquors are "in." Fads and tastes in alcoholic beverages change quickly and unless you are in the business, it is hard to stay abreast of what is "hot." Much also depends on the time of year, the occasion and the guest list.
Binny's' concierges also advise hosts on when to cool beverages, what needs to be kept out of the sun, what wine should be paired with what meal, etc. They are also good at estimating how much of each beverage is needed.
Binny's does not set up the bar or ice the beer, however. That is the responsibility of the bartender, caterer or host. Incidentally, party hosts may request a list of bartenders-for-hire from their Binny's event planner.
For more information, visit the quick links "party planning" tab on www.binnys.com or call your local store.
Outdoor entertaining neophytes or those who have not adventured into that realm in awhile should consider attending a free seminar at Lurvey's Garden Center, 2550 E. Dempster St., Des Plaines, from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 26. Entitled "Patio Outdoor Entertaining," it will give you all kinds of ideas and tricks to throw a great party. Save your space at www.eventbrite.com/e/patio-outdoor-entertaining-seminar-registration-44960207190?aff=ebapi.