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How to throw a stress-free barbecue fete

A high-end barbecue set up by Sara Tara

A high-end barbecue set up by Sara Tara Events includes "grown-up" balloon arrangements and centerpieces made from peonies, hydrangeas and roses. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

As soon as summer kicks into gear, grills heat up and backyard barbecue season begins on Long Island. And no matter what you’re grilling, throwing a successful cookout takes a little bit of planning and a willingness to let things get just a little bit loose and messy.

Professional party planners say that the easiest way to ensure your fete goes off without a hitch is to plan in advance, and get as much done ahead of time as possible. “Be available to your guests,” advises Liz Cordeiro, owner of Huntington-based design and event planning firm Liz Cordeiro Designs. She cautions hosts against being too busy cooking or prepping to spend time with guests. “Prepare food ahead so grilling time is minimal,” she says. “Parboil chicken or ribs, thaw hamburgers, hot dogs, have salads wrapped up in the fridge ready to be put out. And don’t invite so many people that you can’t spend quality time with each one. It’s not about the number of people that attend your barbecue. It’s about the quality time you’d like to spend with each one.”

For Tara Nawroth and Sara Green, owners of Sara Tara Events in Muttontown, it’s also great to allow guests to help themselves. “I always recommend placing a free-standing bar that’s accessible to all,” says Nawroth. “Refills should always be at arm’s reach.” She also urges hosts to overbuy on liquor and dessert, because you can never have too much of a good thing, and it’s no fun to run out of beer or soda in the middle of your party.

To accommodate younger attendees, Cordeiro encourages hosts to provide games and activities. “It’s very inexpensive to pick up balls, or a simple game from the drugstore,” she says. “You can even just get a box of chalk for them to go draw on the neighborhood sidewalks.”

Also, scour local shops for unusual decorations. Cordeiro recommends “any local retailer or drugstore such as Value Drugs, or general stores such as Southdown General Store,” both with a location in Huntington. “I love to shop locally, because they usually have access to fun smaller decorative items that big box stores don’t think to stock.”

It’s always a good idea to consider the community, too. “Be respectful of any close neighbors,” says Cordeiro. “Either invite them, or let them know ahead of time that you’re having people over, and give them an estimated time for your party to end.”

Green says that’s it’s also a good idea to stock up on items that might be forgotten. “Keep a box of essentials that people always forget,” she says. “Stock it with extra sunscreen, towels, sunglasses, iPhone chargers and aspirin.”

Finally, make sure everyone — including you — remembers to have fun. “This is about the simple pleasure of enjoying the summer sun and the downtime with friends and family,” says Cordeiro. “We have such a short warm season here on the Island. We have to make every day and moment last as long as possible and enjoy every minute. That’s the best tip for throwing a barbecue.”


Affordable Huntington backyard picnic

An outdoor summer barbecue can be a terrific way to gather family and friends, even if you’re short on cash. Liz Cordeiro, owner of Huntington-based design and event planning firm Liz Cordeiro Designs, says one key is to work with what’s already available, so new purchases are kept to a minimum. It’s also good to have a theme, so that even disparate details seem to fit together. “For this event, thrown at a private home in Huntington, we used an all-American picnic theme, with red and white gingham and checkers with blue accents,” says Cordeiro. A pretty, checkered tablecloth that’s been in the client’s home for years sets the foundation, washes easily and is heavier than paper or vinyl, so it’s less likely to blow away in the summer breezes.

Other items found in the home also helped keep costs down. “Using serving pieces and decorative pieces already found in the client’s home was important,” says Cordeiro, who recommend borrowing extra items from friends. “Don’t feel the need to purchase high-end items just for one event, and be creative when it comes to things you might not otherwise use. For example, the salad plates we used were paper food trays purchased in bulk from Party City that are commonly used to serve hot dogs.”

Cordeiro kept the theme of the event casual, using blue bandannas from the local Value Drugs to wrap utensils; blue and white enamelware plates from Pottery Barn, which are outdoor friendly and practically unbreakable; and an oversized galvanized steel tub filled with ice and placed on a shady porch to keep adults’ and kids’ drinks cool. She also added a few details just for fun. “Blue votives, found on Amazon, add a nice element in the evening as the sun sets,” she says. “And the large clear rope vase was something the client purchased from Pottery Barn for another event, which will serve as a candleholder or vase for many future events.”

Extravagant Westhampton lawn party

Trade hot dogs for lobsters and burgers for rib-eye and you’ve got the makings of an elegant barbecue that’s more posh than picnic. For Tara Nawroth and Sara Green, owners of Sara Tara Events in Muttontown, who created this barbecue scene thrown in the grassy backyard of Green’s Westhampton home, a summer cookout can be an upscale, five-star affair. That means catered, with crisp linens and real glassware. “We brought in a local chef from The Greenwich in Water Mill that serves up really fresh Americana fare,” says Green. “And I always like to print out the menu on a large board to make sure guests know what’s coming their way and what to save room for.”

Nawroth says it’s also important to get help. “For me, staff is the ultimate luxury for any party,” she says. The hostess should feel like a guest.” She recommends pressed linens, china and real glasses, like the ones shown here from Party Rental Ltd. in Water Mill. Flowers add an extra dash of design. The centerpieces here are made from peonies, hydrangeas and roses, all in white, courtesy of Greenleaf & Bloom in Roslyn. And, of course, a few fun elements thrown in always make the party feel festive. Nawroth and Green found napkin rings, lanterns and pillows at Crate & Barrel, and they added grown-up balloon arrangements from Balloon Kings. “I love surprising people with balloon arrangements that are anything but childish,” says Nawroth, who also made sure that even the invitations were smart and stylish. “A well-designed invite lets people know this is not your average BBQ affair,” she says.

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