Mike and I recently had our Indy family over for a quaint, backyard barbecue and it was fantastic. Barbecues are second only to bonfires and give you a strong sense of folksy, outdoorsy fun. But they’re also really easy to overthink. You start perusing Pinterest or watching Chopped…suddenly your creativity takes over…now your easy-going barbecue becomes a full-scale dinner party and you’re saying words like “centerpiece” and “tablescape”. That’s all well and good. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your hosting. I adore hosting. However, it can drain your wallet and bring you stress if it’s not to scale and if it’s not organized.
The great news is that every event you will host comes down to the same five categories every time: Decor, Menu, Entertainment, Venue, and Guests. Now, there’s a lot of subcategories in there, but really, it’s not that deep. I promise you. I’ll prove it to you.
Let me breakdown our last shindig, and give you the guidelines I swear by for successful hosting of your Independence Day ‘cue. 🇺🇸🌭🎆
Da’ Category Tips
- Decor – Choose 1-3 solid colors for your palette (not shapes, licensed images, or holiday icons), 1 focal point, and 1 detail to focus on. (Ex. Turquoise, Green, White; Place Settings; Pineapple Accents). Solid colors = being able to reuse items in future and avoiding kitschy vibe. Labeling food with fun names or printing signage is a simple and easy way to make your decor pop. I always make the rule that I’m not allowed to buy anything until I’ve absolutely used everything I already have.
- Menu – Write down everything that sounds good. Edit to only 2 items/choices per category. Yes, only two. Cross reference ingredients that have dual value (Ex. strawberry lemonade and strawberry shortcake). Edit again. Sometimes this means killing your darlings, but no worries. There will be a next time. Make a grocery list.
- Entertainment – Review your guest list and determine interests. Determine any inherent entertainment (Ex. Tony Awards on TV) or acquire stimuli (Ex. games, etc.). Build a playlist.
- Venue – Determine access of location and predictability of weather, if it matters. Make sure that your venue does not directly clash with your vision. (Ex. a five-course dinner party doesn’t make sense for an action-packed Superbowl viewing.)
- Guests – How many, and am I flexible on that? Who RSVPs accurately? Who knows how to behave? (Anyone else simply doesn’t belong.) I’m cutthroat with invites, and I don’t believe in obligatory anything. Push yourself to invite the right mix of people, but also people who will appreciate your theme. (Ex. Luaus aren’t for everyone.) You can tell we had the right guests, because we even dressed the same for the occasion: gray and comfy (unspoken theme, haha!).
Da’ Rules to “Host”
H – Have a Vision (5 Words, Now Cross 3 Out)
The first rule of hosting is to establish your wants and must haves in less than five words (aka theme or vision). My policy is if you can’t name it, you can’t claim it for your bliss. Naming something gives it special meaning and will help you drive all other decisions moving forward. Make a list of 5 words, cross 3 out. Put a price tag on it. There’s your vision.
My initial thoughts: barbecue,
picnic, corn, backyard, red
My vision: Backyard BBQ! 🌭 <$100
Removing the word red kept me open to the whimsical pineapples and cool colors I don’t usually associate with outside stuff. Getting rid of picnic and corn pushed me to be more creative with my menu and stop thinking of only baked beans and the typical items.
O – Only 1 Category
Now, I’m going to burst your bubble. Remember the five categories I mentioned? Yeah, you only get to prioritize one of those categories. You won’t forget the other categories. They won’t be nonexistent. BUT every time you say Yes to one thing, you say No to something else. Because that’s how money and time work. For example, if I have an established budget, then I can say Yes to signature cocktails, but that means saying No to a centerpiece (and so on and so on). Every time you say yes, you say no. Choose the category that gets the Yes and the priority. Alternatively, you can choose a 2nd category OR rank your categories.
Decor, Menu, Entertainment, Venue, and Guests
- Venue – All decisions must be compatible with outdoors and moving to the backyard picnic area.
- Menu – Good food with choices, but not too overwhelming. Summer food, but surprising choices!
- Guests are low maintenance, entertainment is a non-essential, and decor will be minimal.
S – Share an Important Task
The host pitfall is always doing too much. It’s easy to want to do for that surprise or wow factor, but it will kill you in the long-run or you might produce something hurried or sloppy because everything falls on you. I have learned over time to leave gaps in the plan intentionally. It took me a LONG time to grow comfortable with this idea, but I have since realized it never fails. I’ll say it again. Leave intentional gaps in the plan.
Specifically, when you’re building your menu. As you develop your grocery list, highlight some inexpensive but important items. Somebody will always ask, “What can I bring?” and it’s nice to have an answer instead of getting into that dance of “No, we got it.” “No really.” etc.. If it’s something that actually matters, it also guarantees that your guests won’t blow it off and that they’ll feel valued and welcomed for having been trusted with something of consequence. People like being helpful. People like feeling like they are part of something and contributing. It’s okay to share the load and let people fill the gaps. Your To-Do list gets smaller, and their good vibes get bigger.
My vision: Answer to “What can I bring?” – Buns (must have), chips (offers choice to bring their own flavor and contribute), Citronella candle (very important for outside)
See what happens with entertainment. Pull out a couple of card games (they are more portable to the VENUE), and see how people feel about music. Guest can take on music if they’re feeling it.
T – Try Something New…as in Never Done Before
Hosting derives its joy from the thrill of experiencing a common something TOGETHER. Not from you just showing off what you always do well and hoping it got a little closer to perfect this time. As a host, you need to have some skin in the game and be experiencing something fresh too! It keeps the hosting high going and it will make you sparkle at your event.
My vision: New side dishes OR starters; do more with less decor (only 2-3 items), making everything portable for outside
At our BBQ, my Jalapeño Poppers and Cilantro Potato Salad made their debut at a family event and were well-received. Much more exciting than the standard menu I originally had in mind! I also looked up napkin folding techniques to add some elegance to a backyard event since I limited my decor in favor of pushing MENU AND VENUE.
In short, if you stick to your HOST rules and focus in one category your next BBQ will be unique to your individual style, low drama, and a creation that is new and worth remembering. Remember to edit, edit, edit, scratch, scratch, scratch. Keep it simple. As always, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!