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.
- 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. McFadden advises that you “notify all invitees by phone, email, or US 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.
- 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 simple, make-ahead recipes 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Blowing In The Wind
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!'”
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