Some outdoor settings are magnificent. Views of mountains, water, and cityscapes are superb backdrops to any event, day or night. An added benefit with outdoor parties is that the site is the decoration, especially in a garden in full bloom.
Outdoor parties can be held at a hotel, on a patio or balcony, by a swimming pool, golf course, beach, garden, church, or any other attractive setting. Or they can be at an off-site location.
When planning a site visit to a location for an outdoor event, time your inspection for the same day and time that the event will occur. For evening events, know when the sun sets at the time of year of your event to determine if lighting is required. Sunset is later in summer, and sun glare is annoying. Be sure the guests will not be squinting into the sun. Notice which areas will be in the shade when you decide where to place buffets and guest seating. To find out sunrise and sunset times everywhere, check out www.sunrisesunset.com/custom_srss_calendar.asp.
At night, you can use strategically placed spotlights, Tiki torches (that use insect-repellent fuel), and strings of tiny Tivoli twinkle lights in trees. You can enhance the site with Japanese lanterns or flowers floating in the pool. Often outdoor lighting is controlled by a timer, and you might have to have them turned on earlier or left on later than normal.
Take a sketch pad and camera. Draw the area, including where you plan to place food. Plot the traffic flow.
Always have a backup location in the event of rain, high winds, or extremely high heat. This could be a room in a facility, or a tent with transparent vinyl siding that can be raised or lowered. Butane heaters can be purchased or rented to take the chill off the air. Ice-chiller fans can be purchased or rented to cool down an area.
When windy, knotting the corners of a square overlay will keep the wind from blowing the tablecloth up.
When food needs to sit outside, be sure it is shaded from direct sunlight. Never leave cream- or mayonnaise-based foods sitting out. Bacteria can grow, causing food poisoning.
On a muggy, humid day, do not serve a hot, heavy meal, and avoid foods that spoil quickly, such as raw shellfish, mayonnaise-based items, or cream pies and cakes. Humidity also quickly wilts pretzels, potato chips, and cut cheese. Meat, especially if it is raw, attracts bees, so if you are cooking steaks, keep them covered until they are tossed on the grill.
Specify a dress code so that attendees know what types of shoes to avoid or if they should bring a sweater. High heels sink in grass. If some women will be in heels, arrange the area so part of it has a solid area, such as a sidewalk or parking lot, or lay out a portable floor so there is something solid to stand on.
Request that the lawn be mowed short, so tables are level, linens hang properly, and mosquitoes aren't in the grass.
If insects could be a problem, have the area sprayed six hours before the event. If this is not feasible, advise the guests not to wear aftershave or perfume, which attracts insects. Perfumes are flower-based and attract all kinds of winged insects, including bees and wasps. Bright colors also attract bees. While it might be nice to hold the event in a flower garden, bugs and bees also find flowers attractive.
Plan your party so the guests can see and enjoy the flowers without being close enough to upset stinging creatures. Mosquitoes love warm, moist, moving bodies, carbon dioxide (produced by breathing), and dark, nonreflective clothing. Guests who are warm, perspiring, and wearing perfume are the best targets.
Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is director of distance learning, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Check out the food-and-beverage section for more advice and information.