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A group of people standing around a grill.

One of my favorite things about summer is the fact that it’s barbecue season. These informal dinners are a perfect opportunity to host a gathering all of your friends without the pressure that a regular dinner party creates.

Of course, barbecues can range from complete impromptu parties to very carefully planned events. Here are some tips to help you find the hosting sweet spot; you know, that place where people are delighted by thoughtful elements that you included, and yet you’re not running yourself ragged for something that should be fun and simple.

  1. Offer some easy food alternatives for guests. Nowadays, it seems like everyone has some kind of special diet. Of course, most people have learned how to maneuver around it so that they can enjoy themselves at parties without compromising their health. However, people will be thrilled if you think ahead about what you can offer to your friends who are vegetarian (consider grilling up pineapple or corn so that they still have something festive to eat – you might even make a few grilled veggie kebabs that will work as entrees for non-meat-eaters) or gluten free (grill up some chicken, since it doesn’t call for a bun like a hamburger or hot dog does) or sugar-free (here’s a recipe for a delicious honey-sweetened mousse that will satisfy their sweet tooth.)                                                                                                                                   A grill with meat and vegetables on it
  2. Potluck it. This is the single best way to take some of the pressure of hosting off. You have plenty of other duties to worry about. And managing the meat for the grill is always the most expensive part. So feel free to delegate the salads, drinks, chips, and desserts to your guests. Everyone has a recipe up their sleeve. Additionally, when guests feel like they have something to contribute they’re actually more likely to show up (and show up on time, too) rather than flake out.                                                                                                                                          
  3. Offer bonus activities. A barbecue in and of itself is fun enough for a celebration. However, if you want to really spice up the evening, throw in some extra fun. Have lawn games available, as well as water sports. If you’re hosting families, this will be a great way to keep the kids occupied while the adults talk. Even if all your guests are adults, they’ll have fun exploring new games. You might even get some ideas from these summer party suggestions and decide to work a bonfire or splash relay into your evening.                                                                           
  4. Keep it cool. Usually, the biggest challenge of a cookout is keeping everyone from overheating. The first line of defense is plenty of shade. However, if your yard isn’t really equipped with a lot of natural shade, you might decide to supplement it with some beach umbrellas, a tent pavilion, or cleverly-tied fabric. You can also keep your guests cooler by watering your lawn thoroughly a couple hours before the party. This way, the evaporating water will lower the temperature in your yard by a few degrees. Your guests who are sitting low to the ground will appreciate it especially. Last of all, consider adding some misters to your patio area. Usually these are simple to install. All you’ll need is somewhere to anchor them, and a water source.                                                                                                                                                                           
  5. Provide sunscreen and bug spray for your guests to use. Few people remember it, but once they start feeling bites, or start noticing their nose getting rosy, they’ll be glad you had it on hand. This will also help ensure that your guests stick around, instead of migrating away when a couple hours outside in the sun is too much.                                                                                                                                                                                           A group of people sitting at an outdoor table.
  6. Offer flavored water. This is a perfect way to give the whole buffet table a little bit of class without putting in much extra effort. Infused water is a hot trend right now, and it’ll be a welcome addition for people who are trying to cut back on sodapop. Your infused water options could be just as simple as cutting up lemon and lime slices and dropping them into the pitcher. Or, you might give cucumber mint a go for an especially refreshing experience. One of my favorite techniques is using frozen berries instead of ice cubes.                                                                 
  7. End the night with some sparklers! Whether this is a 4th of July barbecue or not, it’s always a good time for sparklers. As soon as the daylight disappears, pass around the sparklers and let your guests go crazy (well… not too crazy; keep an eye on the kids.) If you’re in an area that allows more large-scale fireworks, those might be worth investing in too. It’ll make everyone who’s still sticking around glad that they did.

What are some foods you serve at your summer barbecue?  

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