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Choosing Party Venues

The Great Outdoors
I remember my first outdoor party, a Memorial Day picnic at Golden Gate Park. We spent about eight hours at our reserved site, grilling burgers and hot dogs; greeting guests as they arrived throughout the day; and playing badminton, kickball, and Scrabble. Toward the end of the day, as the sun began to set, a feeling of frivolity prevailed, and I felt like a little kid, zooming around the field before Mom called me to come inside. I can only hope your experiences with outdoor partying are as good as mine. But you won't know until you try, will you?

If you decide to host an outdoor party, remember that you and your guests will be at the whim of the weather. Although you can try to be proactive and check the weather report, you never know when you'll be thwarted by an unexpected rainstorm, tornado, or flock of angry geese. Be sure to remind your guests that they will need to take precautions against the sun and the weather. Although applying sunscreen is now second nature for many people, you'll want to remind them to slather it on. Likewise, you might want to remind them to bring an umbrella or a sweater in case inclement weather arises.

The Park
Perhaps the easiest locale for an outdoor event, the park is ready-made for picnics, barbecues, and luaus. Yes, you'll need to bring your own food and supplies, but you'll generally have access to one or more picnic tables, a grill, and, most important, bathrooms. A park is a safe, relatively comfortable outdoor locale for your first – or 40th! – outdoor event.

  • Pros – Most people are centrally located to a great city or state park, which means minimal travel time for you and your guests. Aside from the aforementioned amenities, parks offer built-in entertainment: feeding the ducks, strolling along paths, admiring the foliage, and playing dodgeball.
  • Cons – Parks also contain other people's children, bees, and the occasional pervert, none of which are particularly fun to be around. Parks can also be crowded, especially on national holidays, and parking can be a problem, particularly if you have to haul your gear a mile from the parking lot.
Although a park party can be a casual affair, don't forget to take care of necessary arrangements. If you'd like to plan a park party, call the ranger's office to ensure you have a reservation. Nothing is sadder than arriving at the park to find your selected spot has already been taken by someone with the foresight to make a reservation.

If you plan to grill at the park, make sure you bring not only charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid, and matches, but also tools for cleaning the grill before you cook, as well as cleaning up the hot ashes when the party is over.

Tailgate Parties
Traditionally given before sports events, tailgate parties can really work for any occasion when you find yourself waiting near the back of your car for extended periods of time. Going to the swap meet or flea market at the crack of dawn? Start things right with a breakfast party in the trunk of your car. Amusement-park forays, conferences, or cat or dog shows – any offsite event that does not provide delicious food is ripe for a tailgate party before, during, or even after the event.

  • Pros – Really, really fun! There's something naughty about foiling the cruelly expensive concession-stand vendors by eating gourmet chow you brought yourself. Let the joie de vivre spill over to the rest of your party, and giggle like schoolchildren as you drink 40-ouncers from a paper bag.
  • Cons – The odor of gasoline might add an unpleasant flavor to your artisan goat cheese marinated in olive oil and herbs. Also, you'll need a bathroom sooner or later, so the call of nature might mean the end of your party.
Although they are usually short and sporadic in nature, tailgate parties are easy to arrange: Just ask each passenger in your car to bring a different dish, à la potluck dinner. You'll need minimal prep time or equipment, and the décor will be the glorious parking lot surrounding you.

You can make the tailgate party experience less "exhausting" by strategically locating your car. Gasoline really isn't healthy to breathe for extended periods of time, so try to park your tailgate party near the edge of the parking lot, which will slightly reduce the fumes.

Although tailgate parties are by nature very casual and spontaneous feeling, excellent food is almost mandatory. Because you are saving money on so many party elements, you can afford to splurge for great cheese, quality meats and breads, and an exotic salad or vegetable. These small luxuries will turn an ordinary event into a splendid little gala.

With a little planning, you can stock your vehicle with everything you need for an instant tailgate party, wherever you are. In a small, plastic storage box, pack a blanket, premoistened towelettes, a small cutting board, a sharp knife, a corkscrew, and a few plastic cups. Don't forget a trash bag for cleaning up!

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Reproduced from Plan a Fabulous Party In No Time, by Tamar Love, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing.

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