Hosting a Summer Party

Host the perfect summer celebration with these tips from entertaining expert Camille Styles. With the right game plan, even party prep can be fun and stress-free. 
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Throw a summery "Fiesta" party with margaritas, taco bar and colorful piñata.

Photo by: Melanie Grizzel ©2012, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Melanie Grizzel, 2012, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Throw a summery "Fiesta" party with margaritas, taco bar and colorful piñata.

We've all fantasized about being the perfect, unflappable hostess. You know: the one who sets an immaculate table, whips up homemade dishes from scratch and gracefully mingles with guests without breaking a sweat. Planning for a summer soiree can be overwhelming, but the savviest hostesses have a few tricks up their sleeves that make it possible to entertain, worry-free. Follow this party-planning timeline along with a few entertaining rules to live by, and you'll be hosting this season's best fetes like a pro and spending quality time with family and friends. After all, isn't that what parties are really all about?

1 MONTH BEFORE: Create a Concept + Get Organized
 • Conceptualize a party theme. Will you be hosting a family-friendly pool party? Adults-only game night? Mexican-inspired cocktail party? The possibilities are endless.
 • Decide on a location, date and time.
 • Create handy lists that you can continually update throughout the planning process:
      -  A master to-do list that highlights
      everything that must be accomplished
      -  A cost sheet that outlines the state of
      your budget
      -  A shopping list that ensures no
      necessary supplies are forgotten

3 WEEKS BEFORE: Send Invitations
 • Create a guest list and decide whether online invitations or mailed invitations are appropriate for the event.
 • Be sure to include the who, what, when and where; a suggested attire is usually much-appreciated by guests.
 •*Tip:* There are countless online stationery companies offering chic, well-designed styles, but don't be afraid to make your own! Handwrite details on a simple, high-quality notecard, then tie ribbon or twine around it for a festive flourish.

2 WEEKS BEFORE: Plan Menu & Decorative Details

For the food:
 • Plan a menu based on seasonal ingredients. Berries, fresh herbs and farmers' market veggies like zucchini and tomatoes are at their peak during summer months, so think of ways to incorporate these types of produce into each area of the menu, from appetizers to desserts.
 • Choose dishes that can be prepared in advance, leaving only one or two that need last-minute attention.
 • Survey your serving pieces to ensure you have the proper vessel for each dish you're preparing.
 • *Tip:* No need to cook everything yourself! Inviting guests to contribute their favorite summer dishes lightens the load and brings a fun, collaborative feel to the event. (Get recipes for a Summer Potluck Menu here.)

For the drinks:
 • Keep it casual. Embrace the idea of a self-serve bar or iced-down beers in a galvanized bucket.
 • *Tip:* Sangrias and margaritas are a summertime favorite and can be prepared ahead of time, allowing guests to serve themselves on the day of. Set drinks out in a punch bowl or glass drink dispenser for easy access and a pretty presentation.

For the decor:
 • Pick a palette. Summer is the perfect time to embrace brighter colors in sunny combinations. Incorporate them into your party through decorative details like paper flags and linens.
 • Other elements to consider: florals, favors, drink stirrers, place cards, signage and photo booths.
 • *Tip*: Nothing says "summer" quite like succulents. Set them out as table centerpieces for a floral solution that's inexpensive, fuss-free and will last all summer long.

1 WEEK BEFORE: Start Prepping
 • Cross off any ingredients or party supplies still remaining on your shopping list.
 • Use this week to knock out any prep that can be done ahead of time, like assembling favor bags, handwriting place cards and arranging a buffet setup.
 • *Tip:* If you're setting up a buffet, use a sticky note to label each serving piece in advance with what item will be served on it. This ensures that each dish has a place and the buffet is perfectly arranged.

1 DAY BEFORE: Finish Prepping
 • Give the event space a thorough cleaning.
 • Put up decorations and set the scene.
 • Prepare any dishes that can be refrigerated and won't perish overnight.
 • Finalize your perfect hostess outfit.
 • *Tip:* Even if your party is outside, remember that guests will be coming inside to use the restroom. Beautify the bathroom by removing all personal belongings from the counter and placing a gorgeous bottle of soap and high-quality paper napkins near the sink.

 • Bring it all together by setting the table, finishing final food preparations, putting beverages on ice and lighting candles.
 • Give yourself plenty of time to get party-ready before guests arrive. Don a gorgeous outfit, add festive accessories, and toast to the success of your fabulous summer party!
 • *Tip:* Recruit help. Have a friend or relative come over early to assist with setup, replenishing dishes and pitching in during cleanup.
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