How to throw the utlimate Labor Day barbecue
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Labor Day is the holiday that brings the long hot days of summer to a close. Say farewell to the season in festive style by throwing a Labor Day party that will long be remembered for its relaxed atmosphere and festive spirit. Keeping it simple and planning ahead will ensure that the host remains as happy and carefree as their guests.

Labor Day, a time when our nation’s workers are honored, officially became a federal holiday in 1894 and countless Labor Day parties have been thrown in the century since. Ensure that yours is an affair to remember by following these simple tips.

Denise Vivaldo, food stylist and author of the book, “Do It for Less! Parties: Tricks of the Trade From Professional Caterers’ Kitchens,” and caterer and party planner Jamie McFadden of Cuisiniers offer their best advice to our list of no-fail suggestions for hosting the ultimate Labor Day party.

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1. It All Begins with the Invite

The first step in planning a successful Labor Day party is ensuring that your guests have enough time to add the event to their busy summer calendars—so here’s hoping you did that last week! McFadden advises that you “notify all invitees by phone, email, or U.S. mail at least 10 days prior to your celebration. Request that they respond with ‘regrets only.’” He says to “invite an array of friends and family to ensure that many conversations will be struck and possible new friendships made. Introduce those who do not know one another and point out anything they may have in common.” In order to avoid the awkward moment when a guest forgets the name of someone they met earlier in the day, consider having guests fill out a tastefully designed name tag that includes a note about how they know the host.

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2. Plan Ahead

“I believe that when the hostess has fun, the guests have fun,” says Vivaldo. Keep it easy on yourself during the day of the event so you can enjoy the festive occasion too. McFadden suggests that hosts ‘prepare menu items that are easy to eat and do not require a knife. Also, have an 80/20 mix of cold food to hot food.  This keeps you from a lot of last minute cooking when you should be mingling with your guests.”


Select low-stress make-ahead recipes, simple appetizers, easy side dishes, and no-bake desserts, and remember that you don’t have to make everything yourself. No one will judge you for offering pre-made salads, dips, or desserts—and if they do, you don’t want them at your party anyway!

Related Reading: The Trader Joe’s Snacks You Need for Summer Parties

3. Don’t Forget the Garnishes

Consider placing pots of mixed herbs at eating stations along with colorful scissors and instructions to your guests to snip their own garnishes. Scatter about tiny bowls of flavored sea salts along with Mason jars of fun and colorful pickles.

4. To Drink Or Not To Drink?


Don’t forget about keeping the children at your party, along with adult guests who do not drink, hydrated and happy. Offer a station of homemade sodas, iced tea or lemonade, sparkling water, and a variety of freshly squeezed juices and garnishes such as citrus slices, berries, and crystallized ginger. Set out cocktail glasses and swizzle sticks, label everything clearly, and write a note on a small chalkboard encouraging guests to make their own mocktail. Also offer plenty of bottled water to keep all of your guests well hydrated. As for cocktails, consider making batch drinks, and be sure to label them well too (and keep them out of reach of kids).

5. Tag It

Regardless of whether guests are drinking alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages, offer baskets of tie-on tags and a few pens so guests can label their glass and keep it with them throughout the day. You wouldn’t want to confuse sangria with fruit juice.

grilled summer sangria recipe


6. Keep It Simple

Consider opting out of a formal meal, both to retain your own sanity as well as to encourage more socializing. “Unless you are serving a formal sit-down dinner, do not provide a seat for every guest. When people sit they stop mingling and only chat with the person sitting next to them,” says McFadden.

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7. Keep Them Moving

Scatter food and drink stations throughout your party area in order to keep traffic flowing and avoid a log-jam. McFadden says “this also forces your guests to move around and get to know each other.” Offer trays of food that are easy to refill throughout the day so guests can eat at their own pace.


8. Consider a Chalk Menu

Place a chalkboard in a central spot in your event space identifying the dishes being offered in colored chalk. If you have artistic talents, decorate your board with a few floral flourishes.

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You can also opt for miniature slates for each dish. That way, you can also label them with appropriate dietary notes (vegan, GF, etc.).
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Related Reading: Crowd-Friendly Party Desserts Everyone Can Enjoy

9. Choose Neutrals With Pops of Nature’s Color

Keep your decor neutral and elegant. Natural fabrics like burlap and linen or brown butcher’s paper enable the colors in your food and beverages to standout. Scatter potted plants throughout the space. Their vibrant green leaves will pop against a neutral background. Freshly cut flowers will finish off your decor simply and beautifully.

10. Don’t Forget the Kids


Summer games are easy to execute and will keep the wee ones in your group as entertained as their parents. “I want my friend’s children around, but I also create a game room, so they will enjoy themselves and other kids. Offer them juice, fruit, and a cookie bar. I have even hired a babysitter to keep them safe and sound and to let their parents relax,” says Vilvaldo. Hula hoops, corn hole, or a beanbag toss are fun games for children. Croquet, bocce ball, or outdoor pictionary that includes a large chalkboard and colored chalk are fun for all ages.

11. You Must Have Music

Keep the music playlist light and buoyant. Don’t fret too much about it by letting the internet do the work for you. “Preselect a great playlist for your event. If using Pandora, I suggest Sunday Brunch Radio,” says McFadden.

Related Reading: Ina Garten Curated a Beach Party Playlist

12. Don’t Go Blowing In The Wind (Or Burning Up)

Don’t let weather ruin the festive day. Set up a party tent to offer guests shade and protect them from a rain shower. Offer sunscreen to avoid sunburns and weigh down items such as tablecloths and napkins to prevent the wind from carrying them away. Get our other Outdoor Entertaining Tips for more perfect party ideas.

13. Keep The Pests Away

Nothing dampens the spirit of a festive party faster than unwanted pests. Offer guests Deet-free bug wipes and burn citronella candles in various areas throughout your space; try other natural insect repellents too.

14. Ensure a Smooth and Festive Transition


Be ready for your party to transition from daytime to night. Scatter blankets throughout the space to counter cooler evening temperatures, have candles and matches on hand to set the evening mood, pre-arrange torches throughout the space and for a full-blown nighttime party, offer sparklers. They are surefire ways to delight the children in your group (and let’s be honest, the adults too).

15. Don’t Forget the Toasts!

There’s no better way to commence a festive Labor Day party than by toasting to your guests. It’s a way to honor them and spark a celebratory note. McFadden says “right before you open any food stations or serve dinner, and the majority of your guests have arrived, I suggest stepping out of your comfort zone and toasting your guests. One of my favorites goes like this: ‘there are tall ships and small ships and the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and long may they be!'”

Related Video: Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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