Lisa and Anthony Rocchio, both 57, tied the knot in May overlooking a canal in Amity Harbor. They said “I do” before 100 guests under a large, draped tent, dined on pizzas and a roast pig and partied for hours with a DJ and percussionist.

But this wasn't in a catering hall or a restaurant.

Instead, their guests joined them in the backyard of the yellow, raised Colonial-style home into which they moved in August.

“I've been to a million weddings. I don't remember who had what at what reception hall. They're typical,” said Lisa. She is a commercial real estate agent and Anthony is a truck driver for construction company OHL USA Inc. “We wanted our friends and family to be in our backyard in our home. We put a lot of work into it.” They spent a little more than $35,000 on the party.

While many people opt to hold events at venues, others are staying closer to home: More precisely, outside their or someone else's home.

“You don't have time restrictions,” said Peter Zimiles, president of Long Island Tent and Party Rentals in Bay Shore, who supplied the Rocchios with equipment to transform their backyard into a wedding venue. “You can make it as nice as you want and bring your own vendors.”

Backyard parties big and small can mean a lot of work, uncertainty and contingency planning. However, hosts also get flexibility, freedom, comfort and control of the space to make a party memorable, meaningful and smooth.

“You can have a simple event where people come over and you sit down and talk or have it catered with hired help so it looks more like a production,” said Cheyenne Lespinas, 33, an event planner and owner of Simply Elegant Events in Valley Stream. “It's a space where you get to enjoy the pleasure of having a backyard and good atmosphere.”

Should you hire a party planner?

Roughly 100 people attended the Rocchios' wedding at their Amity Harbor home. Credit: Dayna Doxey Photography

When Sanobar Baloch and Evan Papandrea, both 35, married on Nov. 25, they opted for the main reception at Obsession Banquet Hall in Lindenhurst. But Sanobar planned her henna night for Nov. 23 at her mother's Islip home.

“I had a vision as to what I wanted,” said Sanobar, who planned her event. Sanobar is a makeup artist and Evan is a manager at a car detailing business. “I'm in this industry. I've been doing weddings for 10 years.”

The first big decision — if you're planning more than a basic barbecue — is whether to hire a planner or do it yourself. Event planners can be involved from the start, assist after you begin and/or take over the day of the event. Sites such as and list party planners, giving you options if you go that route.

“You need an event planner any time you're trying to fully enjoy your party without having to see what comes next,” Lespinas said. She charges $900 for two months of planning and day-of coordination, if the organizer arrives with some vendors picked. To organize from scratch, she charges $2,000. For big events, the process can begin six months or more in advance and cost more, but it's worth it, she said.

“A party planner helps negotiate,” Lespinas added. “It's easier to save money with a vendor. If you read through their services, ask for the things you absolutely need.”

Cheyenne Lespinas is an event planner and owner of Simply...

Cheyenne Lespinas is an event planner and owner of Simply Elegant Events in Valley Stream. Credit: Cheyenne Lespinas

A planner can find a way to merge it, so no one family feels disrespected.

— Cheyenne Lespinas

Some people decide to use a go the party planner route trying it on their own, finding that a little help can be worth it.

“I found that people who tried to do it themselves want a planner the next time,” said Cherie Crosdale, 32, owner of The Indulge Brand, an event planning and party rental business based in Roosevelt. “They see the amount of time, work and effort that goes into pulling off an event successfully, while trying to attend.”

Certifications can help differentiate event planners, although track record and recommendations may suffice. Lespinas, for example, is a certified wedding and event planner. And while a party is a party, Lespinas said “weddings are always cultural events” that vary depending on the couple's roots.

“A planner can find a way to merge it, so no one family feels disrespected,” she said. “It usually comes out in terms of décor and food.”

She planned a backyard wedding for a bride with Mexican heritage and a groom with Chinese heritage, incorporating the color red along with mariachis. Another couple with Indian roots wanted a tropical theme for a baby shower held at a tented backyard last summer in Wantagh. The food was Indian, but the décor was tropical.

“We brought in palm grass, leaves, a tropical background. We had flowers everywhere. We rented a tiki bar,” Lespinas said. “We ended up putting tropical balloon accents throughout the tent and around the yard.”

A 10-foot balloon garland, she said, could cost $300 to $500 depending on complexity. A balloon arch can easily cost $800. Balloon centerpieces, she said, can cost a more modest $15 to $40, although helium balloons can cost more.

Floral arrangements can be even more costly, although Lespinas uses them for centerpieces and floral archways. She said a centerpiece with real flowers ranges from $75 for a small one to $500 for larger ones.

Crosdale, 32, owner of The Indulge Brand, an event planning and party rental business in Roosevelt, said backdrops, grass walls and champagne walls can be nice touches.

“We find it’s very popular, especially at graduations,” Crosdale said of champagne walls. "It’s great as an entrance wall.”

What size tent do you need and what will it cost?

Long Island Tent provided the Rocchios with a 20-by-60-foot clear...

Long Island Tent provided the Rocchios with a 20-by-60-foot clear topped tent, draped and decorated, along with tables, chairs, flooring and other amenities. Credit: Dayna Doxey Photography

Tents go with the territory for most backyard parties.

“If it's in the middle of the summer and the day, it's hot. People need shade,” Lespinas said. “If it rains, you don’t have to have all the people in the house. It provides a structure for us to design and have it be cohesive.”

There are different styles of tents such as clear tops that let you see the stars at night, skylights with a mix of shade and sky, tent liners and sailcloth that look majestic and beautiful.

Lespinas said, “You want to create a wow factor when people walk in the tent.” Sailcloth, tent liners and swag are popular along with string lighting and chandeliers, Zimiles said.

While it's best to order tents months, or at least weeks, in advance, it's sometimes possible to get them closer to the date, if weather makes them necessary, he said.

Tent companies can estimate how big your tent should be, based on your guest list and set up. Zimiles said 25 people can fit in a 15-by-15-foot tent, 50 in a 15-by-30-foot, and 60 in a 20-by-30-foot, although dance floors and DJs will take up room.

"It's all based on how you set it up," Lespinas said.

Zimiles' company offers 50 sizes and styles of tents. He said those hosting parties typically spend $1,000 on tents and furniture, although amounts range from $500 to $30,000.

Supply companies may provide tents and more. Long Island Tent provided the Rocchios with a 20-foot-by-60-foot clear topped tent, draped and decorated, along with tables, chairs, flooring, lounge furniture, linens, LED lighting, and tabletop lanterns as center pieces.

“They put up lights all over my house,” Lisa Rocchio added.

Should you hire a staff for your party?

Lespinas said proper staffing is key. Her rule of thumb is one server for 25 people and one bartender per 50, or one per 20 if it's a crowd of big drinkers. Caterers need to provide servers and cleanup crews for food at tables, while for a buffet, you want one or two people to serve, Lespinas said.

"Everybody has to have a timeline," including videographers, wait staff and others, Lespinas said, noting it should include things like any "special song."

Lespinas said organizers should tip everyone, noting contracts may include tips, although guests also can tip bartenders. “If you don't want anyone to tip the bartender, the bartender could have tips in the contract,” she said, recommending 10% to 20% for tips included in contracts.

Pools can be a great amenity for parties, but they need to be done safely, whether an inground pool, raised pool or a blow-up pool or slip and slide. A lifeguard, ideally certified, is a good idea for a pool party with children, as well as parental vigilance. Lifeguards working at local pools may look for extra work.

It's important to ensure that someone has eyes on the pool at all times, especially when young children are using it.

— Bella Alomia, lifeguard

“Having a party by a pool definitely provides the entertainment,” Lespinas said. “In terms of safety, require that children have a floatie or an inflatable vest. Parents need to be in the pool watching their kids at all times.”

At parties with particularly young children, you may want to go a step further. “Bring them closer to you, to the adult section, so you can watch them,” Lespinas said of toddlers.

Bella Alomia, a 22-year-old lifeguard who lives in Suffolk County, charges $25 to $30 an hour plus a one-hour booking fee for pool parties depending on the drive and number of people. She recommended testing pool chemicals in advance along with regular maintenance, as well as inflatables for children.

“It's important to ensure that someone has eyes on the pool at all times, especially when young children are using it,” Alomia said. “Life jackets can be very helpful, and I highly recommend hiring a lifeguard.”

How late can you party?

The Rocchios' wedding began at 2 p.m. and continued until 9 p.m., though some people stayed until 1 a.m. Credit: Dayna Doxey Photography

Be aware of local laws, including town ordinances, and consider calling the community affairs officer at your local police precinct if you're hosting a fairly big party. Permits are needed for block parties or loud noise past certain hours, depending on municipalities, Lespinas said. They can let you know about any municipal noise ordinances and possible parking regulations. And generally, earlier in the day is a better time to host backyard parties.

“A lot of people don’t want to start too early, especially if it’s outdoors,” said Crosdale. “It might be hot.”

Lisa Rocchio hired a DJ and percussionist who played steel drums during the cocktail hour, while the DJ and percussionist “rocked our reception.”

Their wedding started at 2 p.m. and continued until 9 p.m. (when the DJ left), but some people stayed until 1 a.m., on a second-floor deck. “We wanted an afternoon wedding,” Lisa Rocchio said of the Saturday event. “We were outside. I can't party all night anymore.”

The afternoon wedding also worked for people who traveled far. “People came from out of the country,” Lisa Rocchio said. “My mother lives in Greece. We had people from Greece, Arizona, upstate New York.”

At Sanobar's henna party, her cousin played mostly Pakistani music from her playlist on her phone into speakers near the dance floor. For henna night, women got their henna done, as an aspect of the celebration.

Sanobar's party stretched from 7 p.m. to about 2 a.m., although she said they lowered the music about 12:30 a.m. “We made sure to tell all the neighbors,” Sanobar said. “We were very respectful.”

Marc Weiss, known as DJ Chef, who does many events in the Hamptons, usually uses the indoor kitchen, the grill or both for outdoor events, cooking, DJing and performing an interactive cooking show.

“I turn food into entertainment by cooking live in front of the guests, while DJing upbeat party tunes and performing a super fun 'cooking show' with the honoree,” he said.

DJ Chef does a three-course party for events with 15 to 50 people, where the client provides appetizers and snacks. “We have formats for all size parties,” he said.

Buffets, sit-down dinners, alcohol service

Lespinas said higher-end events may go with sit-down meals, while buffets can be cheaper. Barbecues provide an option, along with a potluck where everyone brings a dish.

Sanobar's mother and friends provided food, supplemented by kebabs and skewers catered from Barbecue Night in Hicksville.

The Rocchios brought in food trucks to supplement hors d'oeuvres from a restaurant. A small pizza truck with a wood-burning stove parked in the backyard near the tent, providing mini pizzas along with hors d'ouevres from Vincent's Clam Bar in Carle Place during the cocktail hour.

A roast pig from Long Island Luau, in Ridge, was in the Rocchios' driveway, letting the party stretch from the backyard to the front. Dessert was gelato from Dolce & Gelato in Williston Park.

Sanobar's event was done without alcohol. Lespinas said it's good to have a bartender, if the party's big enough. You can have wristbands for those old enough to drink and bartenders can check ID.

“Some people have bars in their house,” Lespinas said. “Do your due diligence and lock up what's not supposed to be out for consumption.”

Lespinas said it's important that bartenders cut people off as appropriate. If a person becomes unruly, give them water and, possibly, ask them to go inside. Lespinas recommends security for parties of 100 or more, especially without sit-down dinners.

Parking plans

Lespinas said it's good to be friends or at least friendly with neighbors. “Get to know them. Bring them a dish or dessert,” she said. “Invite them over one by one to come by the backyard. Have a relationship with your neighbors.”

Good fences may make good neighbors, but so does good communication. Lespinas suggested giving your phone number to neighbors.

People parked on the street and some of the Rocchios' neighbors offered driveways. But the Rocchios said many people, from out of town, Ubered, while some carpooled.

Valet companies can provide greater ease even on public streets. The most important thing, however, is not simply for the party to go smoothly, but that the person throwing it, as well as the guests, enjoys it.

“Enjoy your party. It doesn't matter how big or small it is,” Lespinas said. “You want to look up and enjoy the people who came out to support you. Enjoy that moment.”

5 backyard party tips

  1. Have coverage. If your party needs to be outside, coverage such as a tent is key. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, your event will be saved.
  2. Bugs, flies and bees can ruin your party quickly. Light a fire pit, tiki torches and /or citronella candles to deter these little pests.
  3. Preparation matters as well as inspiration. Book your entertainment and vendors early.
  4. Be flexible with dates and timing. Summer is the busiest time of year for celebrations. Have a few date options available.
  5. Consider the outdoor option not just for barbecues, but birthday, bachelorette and other parties.

Source: DJ Chef

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