'Tis the season to take entertaining outdoors, take formality down a few notches and enjoy the company of family and friends in a relaxed setting. Whether you are having a picnic at a park or a barbecue on the back patio, the focus should be on whom you've invited just as much as what's on the grill.
Invitations are usually telephoned. Impromptu is okay. Despite a more laid-back mood, the menu can be as easy or involved as you like. You can certainly have a beautiful and elegant dinner outdoors with china and crystal, but for casual barbecues, I prefer to keep it simple with plastic cups, utensils and paper plates which make for easy cleanup. Although, if you are grilling meat, have regular steak knives available. Just make sure you count your flatware BEFORE the meal to make sure you still have the same amount at the end of the night and one or two didn't go into the trash.
Have plenty of beverages on hand, and a good variety too. Not everyone may want (or be old enough) to have an alcoholic beverage.
If you are having a picnic elsewhere, pick up after yourself. Dispose of everything in a receptacle. Don't expect the ants to take care of it!
If you are lucky enough to have everything in your own backyard, make the most of it. We turn our water feature on in the pool, have blow up beach balls for the kids, light tiki torches at nightfall, and make sure there are at least three or four different areas to sit, including enough stools around the barbecue's bar.
I'm also big fan of music too. It should blend into the background, not make it impossible to ear what someone is saying. If you have an outdoor entertainment center, find a nice tropical station to help set a festive mood. Better yet, if there is a playoff game on television, turn it on! The men in the group will love it!
Make sure you have plenty of finger food. It can be as easy as shelled peanuts, especially if a baseball game is on, popcorn for the kids, or easy-to-make Nachos.
The most important thing is to bring people together for conversation and good times, and make them feel welcome and as if they never want to leave. The host and hostess set the tone. Long after the last burger has been grilled, the hospitality you offered at your gathering will be what is remembered the most. Now get grilling! Remember, It 'Manners' A lot!