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Stressing over party details? No worries, we’ve got you covered. From the invites to the exit, we provide expert tips on planning, decorating and hosting an unforgettable holiday gathering!
The summer season is chock-full of patriotic holidays–from Flag Day to Memorial Day to Constitution Day–that allow us to celebrate with friends, family and fellow Americans. One of the biggest of all is Independence Day, aka The 4th of July, celebrated nationwide on July 4th. Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which was signed 241 years ago today in 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the 13 American colonies were no longer part of the British Empire and had formed a new nation called the United States of America. We commonly associate this holiday with all things traditionally American: parades, fireworks, barbecues, fairs, carnivals, picnics, concerts, family reunions, baseball games, political ceremonies, and a whole sea of red, white and blue!
These celebrations bring tons of fun but can pile on the pressure as well. We all want to throw a memorable gathering but stress can lead to forgetting the tiniest but most key details (like the bags of ice; why is it always the ice?!). Not to worry, we’ve culled advice from some of the nation’s top experts from professional planners to home hostesses to help you dot your i’s and have plenty of ice for your sweet tea’s.
With more than 25 years as an event planner and a partner at award-winning California-based event planning firm, Bravo Productions, Greg Jenkins knows his way around a party. He shared industry-insider tips to help novice hosts. Jenkins advises that you plan out your event before addressing the menu, decor, and other items. Remember what the day truly represents and be mindful of the occasion. He says:
Prior to planning the party, inquire about how many of your guests will be in town. Many people travel during the summer holiday season, so before you decide to have a party assess how many people will actually be around to attend.
- Create an itemized budget–one that you can realistically afford without breaking the bank. That budget should not only include costs for food and beverages, decorations, rental equipment if needed, and other essential items, it should also include a contingency amount in case of an emergency or if a backup plan needs to be executed. Too often, host/hostess have no idea about how much they will need to spend for the party, resulting in either overspending or omitting important provisions that should have been captured.
For invites, a hard copy invitation is a classy touch to make guests feel personally recognized vs. a mass email blast. However, in this digital age and for last-minute events, that’s not always practical. If you know your guests are tech savvy, then you can use popular free services like Evite.com or Facebook Events to quickly curate your invite list, keep track of RSVPs in real time, and send regular updates. For non-tech-inclined guests a personal phone call and hard-copy invite are best. Orlando based home decor expert and hostess Elizabeth Rishel of home, lifestyle, and DIY blog Within the Grove offered this guidance:
“So you want to throw a great patriotic party? It all begins with the invitations; everyone loves snail mail, especially ones that stand out the second you open the mailbox. For the recipient and return addresses, create labels that match your color theme. Your return label can even wrap around the back of the envelope for great visual appeal. Add a circular label with the event date to the back to help seal it shut. You’ll already build the excitement before your invitees even open the invitation. My go-to place for all my label needs is OnlineLabels.com. You can create custom labels using images and colors to match your party decor with their innovative software tool, Maestro Label Designer!”
Location & Venue
Summer parties tend to lend well to outdoors, but you want to stay ahead of inclement weather by having a backup plan. Rain and heavy storms can threaten to literally rain on any parade, so umbrellas, tenting, ventilation systems, or an alternate rain location are good to have ready. Event planner Meghan Lee of Bella Giornata Events in Virginia cautions hosts to be prepared for extreme heat or an unexpected storm.
“Be ready to rent a small canopy tent to keep some of your oldest and youngest guests comfortable in the shade and provide a place for people to run to get out of a quick sunshower,” Lee advises. “These smaller tents can usually be found at your neighborhood hardware store, so there is no need to contact the area’s big wedding tent supplier. It is so easy to not prepare for the weather when you are enjoying setting up your yard games or planning out a delicious menu.”
For another type of party crasher–those pesky pests and insects–Veronica Thompson, an event planner with VIBEvents Group in Virginia, says use citronella candles or plants where guests will be sitting or gathering. You can even hang a pretty basket from a small shepherd’s hook that includes insect wipes, sprays, and sunscreen accessible and visible to everyone who may need it.
Envision the entire party when you’re pre-planning so you proactively have items needed for your guests’ comfort rather than having to scramble reactively if an issue presents itself. Julie Noble of Houzz says that the very first thing to think about is how you’re going to set up your space. If you’re going with an outdoor party, she offers a few areas to consider from the home remodeling and design site, which connects you with more than nine million products and materials from sellers around the world:
- Do you have enough table space and seating? Consider the Safaveih Kerman Outdoor 5-piece Dining Set, with wheels to easily store the furniture after the party ends.
- Is there enough shade from the sun? Afternoon parties mean donning plenty of sunscreen. Help your guests out by providing shade with this Patio Solar LED Umbrella which has a dual purpose of blocking the sun’s rays during the day and lighting up the night.
- Are you prepared for the party to continue after sundown? Plan to gather for warmth around this copper rail fire pit to take the party well into the night.
Your menu or catering will likely have been set well in advance, but we know things happen, so if you need easy but delicious items to serve your guests check out our Memorial Day recipes article for yummy ideas from drinks to desserts that beat the summer heat. No time to cook? Most grocery stores or wholesale clubs will have pre-packaged party trays that you can grab in a hurry. Use these ideas from California-based party planner Helen Holden of Counting Candles to make your food more festive by labeling snacks and desserts with patriotic names such as Firecracker Cupcakes or Stars & Stripes Chex Mix, and add mini flag topper toothpicks to fruit cubes or cupcakes.
Thompson of VIBEvents Group adds that the menu should flow with your seating arrangements.
“The amount and type of seating that you have should have an effect on the types of food you offer. If everyone has a place to sit, then bring on the full hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and food items that you eat with utensils. However, if there will be limited seating, then have food that is more portable and easy to eat like fruit skewers, kabobs, sliders, and different types of finger foods.”
Bravo Productions partner Jenkins advises looking to sites such as Pinterest for food and beverage inspirations. One fun idea he shares is to create a signature drink for the party. It’s an opportunity to be creative and can serve as a replacement to having a full-hosted bar. You can take used picture frames purchased from a second-hand store and incorporate artwork or photos that depict patriotic themes. The picture frames can then become creative, conversation-starting serving trays for that signature drink or special dessert.
LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED
Do you have enough activities to keep guests occupied? Perhaps they’d enjoy an interactive, fun game of croquet or ladder toss. Georgia resident Christa Graham, owner of wedding and event planning company, Christa Graham Events and virtual party planning brand Sweet Olivia Celebrations says for a summer party, your guest’s comfort is top priority:
“Provide plenty of shade, air conditioning, fans, and water to help them stay cool. Plan fun activities for the kids that will help them keep cool as well. Water balloons, water guns, and popsicles are popular choices. If you don’t entertain often, remember that simple is best. As long as you feed your guests and keep them comfortable, they will usually enjoy themselves.”
Your decor needs to be in alignment with the patriotic theme. It doesn’t have to be overdone, but it should speak to the occasion with small touches. Jenkins from Bravo Productions shared these tips:
- Think of your holiday party as storytelling; it’s a function that will need a beginning, middle and an end. Then tailor your theme to the region and patriotic traditions that will carry out your storytelling. For example, if you reside in Louisville, Kentucky, you might want to consider red, white and blue with a touch of a bluegrass vibe. If in New Orleans, red, white and blue with an incorporation of the Battle for New Orleans history.
- Use lots of bunting, flags and paper lanterns to carry out your theme. They are relatively inexpensive and can be used for patriotic parties such as 4th of July and Labor Day weekend. In addition create focal points to give a ‘wow’ factor. Your centerpieces can be mason jars filled with a layer each of red, blue and white marbles with a few mini American flags incorporated into the arrangement. It’s easy and inexpensive.
- Encourage your guests to dress for the occasion. They become part of your decor and help carry out the Memorial Day celebration.
Texas-based International etiquette expert, author, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, Sharon Schweitzer, advises that planners consider red, white, and blue themes for table centerpieces, floral accents and invitations. When displaying the American flag be sure to follow flag protocol
For a personal touch you can create customized cups that your guests can take home as a souvenir from the great party you threw. You can personalize these favors with a patriotic message, your name, the date or any fun quote you’d like to add. It’s a fun and inexpensive addition to your event that will make your attendees feel special. These patriotic cups from Totally Promotional, an online retailer and manufacturer of custom-printed party products, fit the bill perfectly.
Given the purpose of the holiday, most event planners or hostesses go for the typical red, white and blue as a color scheme, but don’t be afraid to shake it up some. Camille D. Jamerson CEO of CDJ & Associates offered this expert insight:
“I tend to steer away from [the traditional colors] to bring a little creativity to the mix! I will always keep one of the flag’s colors, but I will mix it differently, for example: blue, teal, yellow and white for a more nautical/sailor/marine theme. Or perhaps a hot theme like red, orange and yellow to signify the beginning of summer.”
You’ve gotten every detail covered for your guests, but you can’t have a well decorated party and walk in looking a mess. We know you may be frazzled inside, but you can never let them see you sweat outside. When choosing what to wear, you should fit with the theme of your affair. This doesn’t mean walk in dressed like Abe Lincoln with a flag-colored top hat, but you should coordinate with one of the event’s main colors. Even if your event is indoors, running around tending to guests will often work up a sweat, so wear cool, breathable fabrics. Accidental spills and stains can be inevitable, so steer clear of white, unless it’s an all-white themed party of course. For cute clothes that scream chic hostess look to actress Reese Witherspoon’s brand, Draper James. They carry feminine rompers, dresses, and outfits in patriotic colors and summer-friendly cotton fabrics. They also carry decorative table and party accents with style and Southern charm such as a drink coaster that says “Cheers Y’all.”
PARTY’S OVER FOLKS
You’ve done a bang-up job getting everyone to show up, but now how the heck do you get them to go home? This can be a delicate issue, especially if one of the guests imbibed a bit too many Mint Juleps. Bellowing the tried and true lyrics by country singer Gretchen Wilson, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!” isn’t very charming; a refined host should embody more of a “Y’all come back now, ya hear!” tone, so here are some tips to clear the party with grace.
For the passive-aggressive hosts out there, subtle cues such as stopping the music, turning up the lights, blowing out candles, or clearing away the refreshments usually sends nonverbal signals that the party is ending. A classy method to encourage guests to leave is to stand by the exit and hand out a parting treat thanking them for coming as a co-host gently ushers them towards the door. Of course if anyone has gone beyond their drinking limit, you want to ensure they get home safely, so either put them in a car service (we recommend a sober escort for single women in this case), allow them to sleep it off at your home, or coordinate for another guest to drop them off allowing their car to stay at your house until it can be moved. To throw a little humor into the situation play this online game called Party Pooper from London-based animation studio, Animade. They recognized the all too relatable issue of trying to reclaim your space after a party. The game empowers you the host to clear your home by any means necessary. And “by any means” includes vacuuming up the snacks, smashing the party cups, and popping all the balloons. Of course your carefully curated guests wouldn’t require such extreme measures in real life, but it’s a fun, free game to let off a little steam and have a chuckle at the end of a long night.
After the party, a nice touch is to send a group thank you along with a photo recap to attendees. This can be done electronically via email, the online invite page, or a private Facebook group so people may leave comments and gush about what a great time they had. If it’s a public affair, then posting pre-approved pictures on social media with your event hashtag to encourage sharing is advised.
Hosts are typically so concerned with details and making sure everyone else is having a good time that they don’t get to enjoy the party themselves. So no matter what, be sure to take time to relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done. After all let’s remember that the reason for the celebration is much larger than any cheese tray or chip dip–it’s our freedom. Happy 4th of July y’all!
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