A Professional Outdoor Party-Planner Shares Tips for a Successful Bash

Throw the perfect backyard bash with Kelly Revels’s five-step planning guide on how to be prepared from the first arrival to the last man standing.

Kelly Revels is a co-owner of The Vine garden market on St. Simons Island in Georgia and an indoor and outdoor party planner by trade. She orchestrates elaborate gatherings for a living, so when she entertains at home, she aims for a minimum of fuss. Her 5-step party planning guide will help you plan the ultimate backyard gathering—without the stress!

1. Ambiance

painted outdoor living space with bright accents

"Music makes everyone feel at ease and creates an instant vibe," Revels says. "For Sunday BBQs, we love My Girl Radio on Pandora. For Saturday nights, we may kick it up a little." Pair the casual playlist with breezy decorations to set the atmosphere of your gathering. Revels pairs simple touches (like a blanket over the back of a chair to combat a cool after-dinner breeze) with more elaborate place settings to create a gorgeous party set-up that doesn't take hours to create.

2. Drinks

outdoor drink station with foliage lattice backdrop
Paul Costello

Prepare a DIY drink station with everything guests need to make a drink. “I premake one big batch of a specific cocktail and make sure all the garnishes, ice, and glasses are ready to go,” Revels says. “It’s a nice way to get guests involved and busy.” Instead of planning for several different drinks, pick a signature cocktail for the party and set up a tray of mix-ins to go with it. Things like sliced fruit or tasty herbs will allow guests to customize their drinks all night long without adding anything to your pre-party to-do list.

Kelly Revels

I feel like I’ve hosted a successful dinner when everyone is still sitting at the table an hour after the meal.

— Kelly Revels

3. Starters

modern outdoor dining space with pavers

Identify pain points, and outsource them. Revels saves time and money by ordering a premade meat and cheese board from her favorite restaurant and styling it with clippings from her herb garden. If you do decide to make your starters, simplicity is key! Make-ahead recipes will save you time and energy on the day of the gathering; look for recipes you can make the day before and pull out of the fridge five minutes before guests arrive.

4. Dinner Menu

bright blue place setting on outdoor table

Revels steers clear of complicated recipes. “I feel like my guests are here to visit and not to watch me stress.” To pull it off: Make sure the grill is on before guests arrive, and go for meats and veggies that cook at the same temperature. Choose sides that don’t need constant attention and a salad you can assemble early. Even if you’re still grilling when guests arrive, you’ll be perfectly placed to mingle while the food cooks instead of stuck inside next to the stove.

5. For the Kids

big green egg grill next to charcuterie on table

“As I do for grown-ups, I have a little bar of snacks the kids can access themselves,” Revels says. For dinner, keep it simple and serve kids first so they can get back to playing. Explain any house rules. These are Revels’s: Outside toys are for outside; in the playroom, anything you can see is fair game. Make things easy on yourself and “put up what you don’t want to clean up!”

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