The school year is winding down, and summer is almost upon us once again!

You’ll soon be trading early morning alarm clocks and final exams for sleeping in until 1 p.m. and endless relaxation. Summer is so close, you can smell it. And there’s no better way to kick off the season than by throwing a fab end-of-school-year bash. Whether it’s a pool party or a sleepover with your besties, we’ve got some tips to make it a celebration to remember.

How to Plan the Perfect Party

Pick a Theme

Sticking with a theme is an easy way to ensure your party packs a punch. Don’t worry about matching every piece of your flatware, serving ware and drinkware — but do keep the look cohesive by choosing an overarching motif. Use sleek and modern elements for a stunning tabletop, or opt for an assortment of shabby-chic pieces for a rustic touch. Another easy way to keep everything looking sharp? Choose a color palette (like monochrome or primary colors) for a table setting that really pops.

Ice Cream Social – Nothing says summer like creamy ice cream. Throw a party celebrating this warm weather treat. An ice cream sundae party requires an extensive list of toppings. To help simplify, choose a vanilla or chocolate base and then build from there. Sprinkles, fruit, fudge, and candy are fun topping options to start with, while not blowing a modest budget.

Carnival Theme – A carnival-themed party is over the top amazing. From a large, big top style tent fabric backdrop, to hand-designed carnival graphics printed on paper products, this party has it all going on. You can even add in your own backyard carnival games for some fun!

Beach Theme – Everyone’s looking forward to long days at the beach, so why not bring the beach to your party? Dollar store beach balls make a cheap decoration and you can serve food from sand pails with shovels. Toss in some rope and driftwood and you’ve got some inexpensive, cute summer-themed decor!

S’mores and Campfire Party – For nighttime fun, consider a s’mores and campfire party. This party theme is super low cost and perfect for entertaining on a budget. Ultimately, you only need a campfire, s’mores materials, and drinks to wash it all down. If kids are attending, there are lots of games you can play that involve the s’mores, too. If you don’t already have a backyard fire pit, consider DIYing one for cheap—it will last you for years to come!

Hawaiian Luau – Pineapples, outdoor torches, and leis are the basic ingredients for a Hawaiian luau. Pretend you are on a tropical getaway when working on a budget, and keep decor and accessories simple to save on costs. Fruity drinks and themed party favors like grass skirts will keep the party going into the night.

Pick the Perfect Menu

Whether you’re feeding 20 people or planning a romantic dinner for four, your menu is what your guests will remember. For smaller, intimate affairs, go for cuts of meat that ramp up the swish factor (think Wagyu steaks or filet mignon). Hosting a blockbuster bash? Keep it simple with everyone’s favorite handheld foods — burgers, hotdogs, and ribs.

Maple Barbecue Grilled Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6 tbsp double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup Sugarman of Vermont Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 4 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • vegetable oil (for the grill)
  • 1 (3 1/2 – 4 lb) whole chicken, cut into 6–8 pieces
  • Kosher salt

Instructions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium. Cook garlic, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until slightly darkened (about 3 minutes). Add maple syrup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and Sriracha.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the flavors have come together (about 1 minute). Remove from heat. Transfer about half of the barbecue sauce to a heatproof bowl and set aside for serving.
  3. Prepare a grill for medium-high indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of the grill; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off); oil grate. Season chicken generously with salt. Grill chicken over direct heat, turning every minute until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
  4. Move chicken over indirect heat. Cover, position the vent (if your grill has one) over the chicken, and continue to grill, keeping the grill covered as much as possible and turning every 5 minutes or so, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 140°F–145°F, (18–25 minutes depending on the size of the pieces). Baste chicken with barbecue sauce and grill, turning and basting occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 160°F for breast and 165°F for dark meat, about 10 minutes longer.
  5. Arrange the chicken on a platter. Serve with reserved barbecue sauce alongside.

Honey Maple Lime Berry Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, rinsed and cut into quarters
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries, rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries, rinsed
  • 1 kiwi, skin removed, cut into pieces
  • zest of one lime
  • 2 – 3 tsp The Sugarman of Vermont Honey Maple Glaze (to taste)

Instructions:

  1. Toss the strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and kiwi together.
  2. Sprinkle with lime zest and drizzle with the Honey Maple Glaze, and toss to distribute evenly.

Tip: This salad tastes even better if it’s refrigerated for 30 minutes or so before serving to allow the flavors to meld, but it’s delicious either way!

Serve Refreshing Drinks

Keep everyone quenched with a bevy of refreshing beverages. Blend your own fruit juices or ices, or whip up a pitcher of homemade lemonade or iced tea. Want a prettier pitcher of water? Dress it up with fresh slices of cucumber, oranges or a handful of fresh berries for H20 your guests will raise a glass to.

Maple Lemonade

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Combine the ingredients, add ice, stir and enjoy!
  2. To make this into a cocktail, add your favorite vodka.

Maple Blackberry Mojito

Ingredients:

  • 4 fresh or frozen blackberries, thawed
  • 5 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp Sugarman of Vermont Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 lime wedge
  • 1/4 cup club soda, chilled
  • 1 1/2 oz light rum
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice cubes

Instructions:

  1. In a glass, muddle the blackberries and mint with maple syrup.
  2. Squeeze lime wedge into the glass. Stir in club soda and rum.
  3. Strain into a chilled glass; serve with ice.

Set Up Games

Who doesn’t love a backyard game? If your yard space allows for it, set up a net for a lively volleyball or badminton match, or bring back oldies-but-goodies like lawn bowling and croquet to get guests onto the green.

Light Up the Night

Don’t let dusk put the lights out on your party. Keep the fun going into the evening with a selection of dazzling lights. From the warm glow of lanterns and votive candles to twinkle lights and eco-friendly solar lamps, your fête will sparkle on long after the sun goes down.

Set the Mood with Music

An amazing playlist is a great way to provide instant ambiance to any barbecue. Pair that filet mignon with some cool jazz, or make a mix of everyone’s favorite summer jams to get the party started.

Enjoy Your Summer Party

Above all, relax. People will rarely remember the food or playlist, but they will remember the way the host made them feel. Be a gracious host. Don’t get too consumed with all of the things you have to do to keep the party going. Take the time to eat, drink, and talk to your friends and family.

Accept the fact that something will probably go wrong. Your reaction will set the tone for the overall mood of your summer party. Keep your spirits up, and your guests will follow your lead.

When it comes to party planning, do what’s natural to you, and everything else will fall into place. The important thing is you take time to connect. Whether it’s a graduation, a birthday, or an informal dinner on the deck, anytime friends and family gather and share conversation and laughter, memories will be made. Use these outdoor party ideas to make the most of the season. Summer is too short.