Lara Shriftman: The great outdoors is always a great place to throw a party. When the weather is nice, don't stay cooped up in your house. Move your party outside and allow your guests to enjoy the fresh air! From the backyard of your house to a local, sandy beach, any outdoors location will be an instant success when you're throwing a summer party.
Here are some helpful tips for throwing the perfect outdoors party:
* Having your party in your own backyard is always great and convenient. Decorate with chairs, tables and fun lights, so your guests have a place to relax as well as socialize with one another.
* Park it! We love to take over a patch of a park and invite our friends out for a casual afternoon outing.
* Check out the local Y and see if it has a pool for public use.
* Make some calls to local hotels and see if they have a poolside spot available for reservation or rental. Remember, an off day (most any weekday) will be more affordable than a Saturday, Sunday or major holiday.
* Borrow a friend or family member's backyard pool.
* Find a sandy space at a local beach or lake. Check in ahead of time with park officials to find out whether you need to reserve a firepit, picnic table or gazebo, and whether or not alcoholic beverages are allowed on the grounds.
* Find a restaurant that has a beautiful outdoor dining area and see if you can rent it out for the night. Not only will this allow your guests to hang out outside, it will also take care of the food situation, because you can have the restaurant cater as well! (One of my favorite restaurants to hold an outdoor party in is Asia de Cuba in L.A.'s Mondrian Hotel. It overlooks the entire city!)
CHIC TIP: If you are having a pool party and are inviting kids, always have lifeguards on duty. Since it is your party, it is your responsibility to ensure that all of your guests are safe and have a fun time.
Good weather is crucial when it comes to outdoors parties. Make sure that you check the forecast far ahead of time to ensure that it will be nice on the day of your party. Remember: If you're having a day party that will carry over into nighttime, remind your guests to bring something warm to wear once the sun goes down.
* A large canopy tent creates a breezy, shady spot where guests can mingle. Not everyone likes hanging out in the sun, so if it's a sunny, warm day, it's important to provide guests with a cool place where they can socialize in case they get too warm. If you don't want to set up a canopy tent, beach umbrellas are a great substitution. You can find fun beach umbrellas at your local Pottery Barn, or order them online.
* Skip the usual red and blue and decorate with summery colors like pink and green.
* Rearrange seating in vignettes of four to six, six to eight, and eight to ten. This will give guests a comfortable place to relax, mingle and meet new people.
* Bring indoor furniture outside. Give that kitchen chair or living-room couch a makeover by draping it in white sheets or a playful fabric like terry cloth.
* A BBQ is always an instant success at any outdoor party. Make sure that you cook a variety of different meats (including a vegetarian option), so that all of your guests can enjoy the meal!
* Check the pet policy. If your outdoors venue allows animals, invite your guests to bring their pets along as well. Last year, I threw my miniature shih-tzu, Lulu Flynn, a dog party outside at the One Bal Harbour Resort and Spa.
* If you have a pool, accessorize it with fun water toys such as pool floats and water slides. I found a great water slide for my son, Lucas, at One Step Ahead.
* Create the ultimate lounge space by bringing out a bed and loading it up with pillows.
* Use patterned rugs or large bathmats to lay a soft foundation for sitting on the ground. Prop fluffy pillows around throughout the party space.
* At a hardwood store, purchase cut tree trunks and use them as end tables.
* Spray-paint plant stands your favorite color. These will serve as great end tables and will provide a space for people to place drinks and food.
* Always remember to have plenty of sunscreen at your party. You don't want anyone leaving with a bad sunburn!
* It's common for people to forget their towels at home, so make sure that you always have extra towels for your guests. That way, you can ensure that everyone has the option to go swimming, whether they forgot their towel or not!
* Remember, the key to any outdoor party is to have plenty of comfortable seating, so guests will want to hang out all afternoon!
* Always make sure that there is plenty of water at your party, so none of your guests get dehydrated. I always like to put out water bottles in big ice buckets, so guests can grab them whenever they want.
* For all outdoors parties, it's important to remember to only serve food that won't spoil in the heat. Some good options are miniature sliders, pigs in blankets and miniature grilled-cheese sandwiches. (Get creative and customize your sandwiches by using cookie-cutters to cut them into fun shapes and designs!)
* Have bowls of candy and nuts lying around for your guests to snack on as they socialize. I found a great three-nut bowl at Ralph Lauren that is a perfect serving accessory.
* Sensible Portions Veggie and Apple Straws. Kids love these fun straws not only because of their delicious taste, but because they are healthy as well! What's great about them is, you can buy them in a large package (so guests can nibble on them as they socialize) or you can buy them in small, individual packets (so each guest gets his or her own). Choose from a variety of flavors: veggie, apple or potato.
* Honest Kids fruit juice
* Serendipity Frrrozen Hot Chocolate
* Fun summer drinks such as mojitos, strawberry daiquiris and sangria. My favorite summer cocktail is Grey Goose's L'Orange Shiso Sangria:
1 Â½ parts Grey Goose L' Orange flavored vodka
1 part plum wine
Â½ lime, cut into wedges
Â¾ part simple syrup
Â¼ plum, diced
4 to 6 shiso leaves (cilantro may be substituted)
In the bottom of a cocktail mixer, place plums, shiso leaves, lime and simple syrup. Add ice and remaining ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a rocks glass and present with a plum slice and shiso leaf.
It's easy to create a gift bag for a summer outdoors party. Hand out fun, colored sacks lined with tissue paper and filled with any or all of the following:
* Suntan oils and after-sun lotions
* Evian Mineral Water Spray
* Flip-flops and beach towels
* A CD with songs played during the afternoon
* A custom box of candy from Dylan's Candy Bar
CHIC TIP: Order something you can't get from a store -- like a fun Harry & David party box of gourmet fruits, chocolates and cheeses -- to give to your guests as they leave your party. That way, your guests can indulge in a combination of salty and sweet gourmet treats in the luxury of their own homes.