The key to throwing a great party is to make sure that every attendee has a great time. You don’t need the perfect backyard, the perfect menu, or the perfect soundtrack (though all of those things help)—you just need to make sure your friends and family are enjoying themselves! These five outdoor party essentials will help you set up your party so that everyone has an amazing experience.
1. Find your signature dish to serve outdoors
One of my editors here at Best Buy (Christine, who you’ll likely recognize from her amazing lifestyle content) had a fantastic suggestion for these outdoor party essentials: the signature dish. Everyone has that one dish that they’re really good at making, so why not make it the highlight of your outdoor party?
Like a lot of 20-somethings, I perfected my signature dish early on so that I’d always have something to throw together for a date in a pinch. Mine is a variation on a classic spaghetti carbonara, which I make with maple smoked bacon, tagliatelle, and (my secret ingredient) a splash of white condiment when I’m adding the capers at the end.
I always keep my pasta ingredients well-stocked so I can whip up a batch whenever friends come over and start feeling snacky, and I know all of my variations by heart: garlic sausage for when you need the dish to be done in under 15 minutes, linguine if you’re out of tagliatelle bundles, and extra fresh pepper when you have to settle for shakey cheese.
Your signature dish might be a potato salad, seven-layer dip, beautiful steaks, or the tastiest grilled cheese sandwiches you’ve ever had. No matter what it is… It’s out there, and it’s the ideal outdoor party essential. Your friends and family will know to expect it, so no matter the occasion or theme of the party, there’ll be one thing on the menu that they know they’ll love!
2. Outdoor party essentials that stay outside: Make your main course an event
One dish is rarely enough for a large party, so I’m going to cheat a little on the second of these outdoor party essentials. This is something that’s equally vital to your signature dish, but it’s a little bit different. The outdoor main course is something that’s unique to backyard parties, where the long days and open spaces create a slightly different vibe.
One of the best parts about an outdoor party is the casual atmosphere created by communal cooking—so highlighting your space with a BBQ or smoker (or both) adds extra gravitas to any outdoor party.
Barbecues are the perfect way to grill up delicious, juicy steaks and veggie kebabs, while smokers can be a capital-E Event. You can start a slow, delicious smoked item early in the day, and your guests will be able to smell it cooking to perfection all the way until it’s ready. I have a cousin who used to make candied salmon in her backyard smoker, and they were the highlight of any event—sweet, salty, and pescatarian-friendly!
For grilled items at outdoor parties, barbecues make it easy for guests to choose their sauces and cook time without anyone having to step away from the party to finish cooking. And hey, who doesn’t love a little friendly competition around who gets to man the grill?
3. Set up the perfect backyard space
The perfect backyard space is something that you can enjoy both as one of your outdoor party essentials as well as your own personal everyday refuge. A comfortable outdoor arrangement is great for de-stressing when you’re feeling overwhelmed and equally ideal for hosting guests when you’re feeling the need for connection.
To set up the perfect, party-friendly backyard area, make sure to use seating and decor to highlight an outdoor focal point. This can be a garden feature or big pool, but oftentimes, it’s an outdoor fireplace or fire pit: something that people can gather around.
Make sure you have lots of outdoor seating and shaded areas available with patio umbrellas and shade sails. (I love an offset umbrella, which provides a shaded area with minimal ground-level or table-level hazards!)
4. Design a themed playlist
To set the mood and fill in any awkward silences, add some outdoor speakers as the next set of your outdoor party essentials. Designed to better withstand the elements, outdoor Bluetooth speakers are easy to control from your phone and guests can even connect their devices if they want to play DJ for a bit.
I personally love the Sonos line of speakers for high-quality sound, and JBL is always my favourite budget speaker option—I have a little portable JBL that I take with me when I travel. While it’s not as powerful as their indoor/outdoor speakers, it gets the job done in small spaces!
You can pick the perfect playlist for the occasion, or set up a shared queue on a service like Spotify so your guests can add their favourite songs to the mix.
5. Make your outdoor party kid- and pet-friendly
I like to start that process by creating two signature drinks for the event using bar and wine accessories: one cocktail and one mocktail, so that my sober friends, designated drivers, and anyone under the legal drinking age feels included, too. Then, I’ll add in some water dishes and a bowlful of treats (out of reach, of course) for any visiting cats or dogs.
Next, it’s time to add a few party games and kids’ toys to keep anyone who needs a breather or a conversation starter occupied. I like to go with a fun, campy, truth-or-dare style stack of conversation starters, but card stock and similar items can blow away in the wind at an outdoor party. Make sure to add a few paperweights to stacks of things like cards and napkins, then add some kid-friendly toys or board games where appropriate.
As long as everyone has something that they can choose to do during the party and somewhere they can take a little break, it’s easy to keep any outdoor party running smoothly. And, with everyone having a great time, you’ll have the most important factor in creating a successful outdoor party!
Shop outdoor living essentials online at Best Buy.