How to Decorate & Prepare an Unforgettable Summer Party

Whether it’s a summer holiday or just a regular weekend, summer weather calls for throwing a great party.

To learn the ins and outs of decorating and preparing a summer party— from choosing the right theme to making it your own—we tapped the expertise of Lexi Stolz, who runs the Bridgehampton-based event design and catering company, Hamptons Aristocrat with her business partner Louisa Young.

A fruit and cheese platter sitting on a table | Corcoran

To Theme Or Not to Theme?

Utilizing a food-based theme is Stolz’s favorite way to celebrate birthdays, in particular. “It’s fun to go with a theme, especially when you’re celebrating the same milestone more than once,” Stolz says. “It takes the pressure off of the birthday person, and makes it fun and memorable for guests in a non-redundant way, year after year.”

You can build a theme by starting with the food and filling in the details. If your menu will feature regional cuisines, such as Italian or Mexican, you can you can utilize the colors of that nation’s flag on your invites, in the colors of the flowers, and in your overall decor, for example. For a birthday-themed cookout, you could pair a Low Country boil with lobster and corn with beachy decor.

“You don’t have to go too far with a theme—pick one small element, and repeat it three or four times,” Stolz says.

Formal vs. Casual Parties

A shrimp platter with corn and potato wedges | Corcoran

“What’s cool about summer cookouts is that you can host a super-formal event and serve a very casual menu—and vice versa,” says Stolz.

For formal summer parties, Stolz always incorporates metallic accents, such as gold-rim chargers and champagne flutes accented in gold or silver, complemented by china or ceramic dinnerware and serving bowls, and of course, metal cutlery. Casual cookouts are naturally more relaxed, so your table should follow suit, with compostable wooden plates paired with picnic-grade forks and knives.

Always choose fabric napkins over paper, because they look better and are more sustainable. An inexpensive, attractive—and lower-fuss option—to linen napkins are striped-terry bar mop towels.

For floral arrangements, virtually any type of flower can appear on either a formal or casual table—because what really separates these two types of events are the place settings.

Make Sure You Light the Night

Once the sun goes down, proper lighting is key. Consider using outdoor bistro-style lights, which easily attach to your home’s fencing and its exterior. Candlelight, while intimate, can be tricky. “Even if you buy a ton of votives, for example, it can still be too dark for your party, and wind can also be an issue,” Stolz says.

Instead, she suggests going with large, wind-proof hurricane lamps and tapered pillar candles so that your guests can see what they’re eating.

Plan an Easy Cookout That’s Still Chic

A vegetable platter with different dipping sauces | Corcoran

For an easy cookout that can be executed at the last-minute, decorate with bouquets of farm-stand flowers in Mason jars and re-purpose empty, graphic tomato sauce cans to stow groups of cutlery. Finding and using things you already have on hand, too—like heirloom china and serving pieces—can create a chic, mismatched look. Just be sure to stack like items in piles, so it looks homey—not messy.

For the menu, select items you can make ahead and serve chilled or at room temperature, such as poached salmon over asparagus, pasta salad, barbecue chicken, or sliced cast-iron steak over salad greens. You don’t want to have to cook anything once your guests arrive.

Make Your Gathering Unique

A shrimp platter with white sauce drizzled on the top | Corcoran

Think outside the box when preparing a summer party, whether it’s setting out terracotta plant saucers lined with parchment paper as party plates or using food as décor. To pretty up a bar table, arrange summer berries on long, bamboo skewers and display each type of berry in the same container, so that guests can highlight their beverages.

Instead of buying flowers, you can grab a pair of clippers and shop your own backyard for wildflowers, greenery and sculptural branches, or use locally sourced foliage to create a greenery table runner. For seating, why not bring out some living room furniture, a rug and coffee table to create an outdoor lounge?

While decor will help make your event stand out, in the end it’s mostly about the food and drinks. Big beautiful displays of food—whether you hire out or DIY—will show guests you put much thought into your cookout. Don’t forget to plan for some post-dinner snacks—maybe reheated pizza squares or grilled cheese triangles—if you’re expecting the crowd to stay late.

A Parting Gift

A final touch is to send off guests with yummy leftovers—prepackaged and labeled in takeout containers and simple craft-paper bags, grab ‘n’ go style—or a nice bottle (or a quarter-bottle, a.k.a. pony) of wine. “Many times, guests will be heading back to their homes or hotels and want to keep the party going. A bottle is a fun way to facilitate that,” she says.

Throwing a great party is about keeping guests satiated and having fun. If you can achieve that, you’ll surely be the talk of the summer circuit. Cheers and happy summer!