I often get asked to attend Barbeque parties — lucky me — and while they are always fun and enjoyable people always ask me what I would do differently. Recently, I was asked by a dear friend if I had any fresh ideas about throwing a Barbeque and would I ever consider co-hosting one with her at my home. It only took me a moment to say: “Yes”, followed by, “Only if I can call it a MAR-BE-QUE”. I’m happy to say it was a success. So that you can be in the loop, too, here are my fun family party ideas that you can incorporate into your next outdoor summer festivities.
Get the whole family involved. Assign jobs! Planning the food and chef’s duties, arranging the guest list and invitations, organizing decor, and running the activities and entertainment are just a couple of examples to consider. Once you’ve assigned responsibilities, let my ideas for each category below inspire you. Feel especially inspired? Then make sure you e-mail me to let me know how it went and what you tried!


Food and Chef Duties

Keep the cook well hydrated: ferry him or her with water so they can keep their eyes on the food.

Arrange chef’s helpers: People naturally seem to congregate around the grill, but can get in the way when it’s time to serve because they don’t know what to do. To avoid this, as guests arrive, pull a couple aside and ask them to help: “Paul, I’m so glad you’re here, I hope you have fun. Here’s a favor you can do for me: when Barbara’s ready to serve can I count on you to help out? Thanks!” When they know in advance, people feel useful and like they’re contributing to the party.

Offer guests their first drink when they arrive, then invite them to help themselves throughout the evening.

Hot-dogs and hamburgers for the kids are classic barbeque foods — and perhaps a great tradition in your family — but how about a grilled lobster or tenderloin on the grill? Yum, Yum. Stay away from only traditional food choices and do something different. Lamb chops, shishkabobs with veggies and shrimp, salmon filets, oh how I’m getting hungry now. Get the point? Expand the menu to be more interesting and different from the norm and it will be a more memorable barbeque.

For a creative dessert idea, consider setting up a hot-fudge Sundae station. Make your own. It’s entertainment and eating combined. I love this idea, you’ll love it and your guests will love it too!

Gas or Charcoal? Personal choice. Find what works best for your lifestyle. Just keep the grill away from the patio seating area unless you want the smoke to clear the area while you’re cooking.

Try to help the chef remain focused; what seems like a quick walk away from the grill could make or break your dining experience. Prep tips: Have cleaned tools ready in advance have an extra towel nearby, and even an extra plate handy. Don’t forget insect spray and sunscreen — you are likely starting to cook while the sun is still out. The only responsibility the chef should have is cooking the meal and cleaning the grill when it’s still hot.

Precooking food is also a more modern way of enjoying a MAR-Be-Que. Just because it’s an outdoor party does not mean you have to fire-up the grill. Consider a make-your-own hero sandwich bar for kids and chilled salmon and antipasto for the adults.

A large galvanized bucket can be your best friend. Perfect for any outdoor party for keeping drinks cold while being stylish and fun. Find one at a tag sale for the best discount price and make sure it has no leaks — or that they’re easy to mend. Extra bonus tip: Consider keeping it just for barbeque entertaining, then use it to tidily store odds and ends needed for games.


Who to invite seems obvious, right? Sure, but having something — or someone — unexpected can make a big difference to the energy and fun or a party.

Invite the neighbors! Do you even know them? This is the perfect time to introduce your self to them and get to know them in a social fun setting. When I was growing up my parents would always invite our neighbors. More often than not a barbeque was always a block party, and not one would go by without “Margie from next door” there. Good neighbors make excellent friends, and I have proof of that with mine.

Invite an out of town guest for an overnight stay. I love to introduce my out of state guest(s) to my local friends. The locals feel like it’s not just the same old faces, and the guests feel honored.

These types of gatherings make it fun to give single friends and couples with kids a chance to mix.

If possible, invite pets to join in on the party. A doggie party is always fun. I love to bring my Miniature Schnauzer, Violet, to parties as she is always well behaved and perfectly accessorized. If you know that a guest has a pet and you can accommodate them, then do so. Remember, it is never the host’s job to pick-up after a guest’s dog! If you are invited to bring your pet and you know you have little control over their behavior in such environments, then bringing them will always be a bad idea. Instead, bring their regards — and maybe a photo of the precious monster – to make the whole evening less painful to others.


Proper seating is one way to bump-up the overall outdoor experience. Offer areas that allow you to sit, relax, and take in the outdoor elements. With the wide verity of outdoor furniture available one has endless amounts of style choices. I prefer teak and/or wrought iron for both the durability and style. These both offer a natural look that compliments the garden and weathers beautifully.

To know me is to know that I can never have enough throw pillows in the house. So why not incorporate this great concept for a fun garden party or MAR-Be-Que? I do! Outdoor pillows come in fabulous colors and styles perfect for any outdoor entertaining area, making your guests feel right at home with Mother Nature.

No more paper disposables! If you are in your own home it can be worth the extra effort to make a statement (and be a “green” host, too!) I love using an inexpensive, everyday set of plates and glasses just for this purpose — I have enough for 24 people — and simple linen napkins tied with twine makes a charming extra touch. The cost of the place-settings seemed manageable to me once I realized how much the disposables would be every time — it only took me 4 get-togethers to break even.

Lighting: If you’re considering renting a tent for your next gathering add white holiday lights starting with one post and working your way to each. This will enhance twilight’s natural ambiance with a festive glow. No tent? String the lights on the trellis, hang them under an umbrella, or wind them around a tree. All great ideas. Add a couple of candelabra to your table for a breathtaking romantic display. Keep your color theme all white for the best impact.

Music should be tasteful and garden-appropriate. I love the classic music from the 70’s and 80’s as they remind me of my childhood days with my family. Plus, as the evening wears on your guests might sing along — watching them can be free entertainment!

VIP seating. Growing up we had a special chair for my grandmother to sit in. This folding chair would move around the yard so she could always avoid the sun. It even traveled with us to other parties. Having it available ensured that she never had to impose and ask for a chair when she got tired of standing, or risk sitting in a chair she wasn’t sure was stable and sturdy; she’d rather not ask, instead she would disappear into the living room when no one was looking. See that you have a secure, durable chair to offer any grandparent or handicapped guest that may need it.

Use large rolls of paper instead of tablecloths; both adults and kids can be inspired to create table art. Have crayons on hand in terracotta pots or silver cups for a fabulous, interesting way to display color.

Stay away from traditional party colors such as red and blue gingham or red, white and blue themes, as they have been so overdone. If you want to be patriotic, hang one flag or use small 12″ flags as an accent to your primary color theme. Why not also consider an all red theme, or — perhaps my favorite — a white party. You can even have your invitation include the color theme: “a fabulous white party — so dress appropriately.”

Activities and Entertainment

If you need to hire entertainment for your party then something has gone wrong. You should consider yourself as the entertainment, so think about who is coming and be ready to engage them in conversation, and be a host or hostess by introducing people to each other. Remember the days when families use to play together? With all the new audio and video devices, kids go to their area and adults go to theirs. Not at my MAR-Be-Que’s. I make it a point to collect all personal electronic toys and music devices at the door. (Sometimes from adults, too; you don’t need to ask why!) Kids are involved and exhausted by the end of the party.

Give a garden tour, house tour or discuss the latest book you read. Hopefully, it was Life On Mar’s, A Four Season Garden!

Always ask someone to lead a toast to the chef. The perfect time is between dinner and dessert.

A jump-rope competition: Easy and cheap, when you go to the hardware store and cut a rope twenty feet or so and make teams. One person holds each end of the rope and begins twirling it. Each jumper has to enter while the rope is in motion and exit the from the other side. The team that can jump the longest and exit without breaking the rhythm wins. This is always so much fun as it’s been a while since my friends jumped rope and they are not always as good as they remember themselves to have been!

Water balloon toss: When it gets hot and you need to cool off this game is perfect. Fill small balloons with water and grab a partner. Standing face to face, begin your toss back and forth. For each successful toss — meaning the balloon doesn’t break! — both partners take one step backward, then toss again. You’ll be amazed how far you can toss a water balloon. The team that goes the farthest wins! Eventually, all the balloons break, so remember to pick-up all balloon pieces from the ground to avoid any animal accidentally eating it, thinking it is food.

Hula-hoop: I only recently mastered how to do this and now I’m excited to show others. Yes, there is a trick, but I guess you need to ask a ten-year-old for the secret because I’m not telling! Adults participate and have fun while getting some much-needed exercise.

Kick Ball: Oh, how I remember this fun game. Because baseball was never my thing, kickball quickly became my ball of choice. Played just like baseball without a bat, everyone must kick the ball instead of throwing it. Since most everyone of every age can kick, the game is perfect for even the not-so-coordinated person.

Paper Plane Rally: Everyone who wants to participate makes a paper airplane — any design counts, just make sure the creator’s name is on it so it can be identified. Standing in a line, players toss their planes and must leave them where they land. Using a measuring tape, record the distance that each plane flew from its creator. Players get five throws, and the biggest total distance determines the winner. Option: Allow players to make a different plane — or modify their designs — for each throw.

Truth be told, a MAR-Be-Que is more about incorporating the traditions of the past with a new modern way of thinking. Plan ahead, have fun and enjoy the process. You will find that most of my ideas can be coordinated and executed well in advance and with little effort. In no time you too can have a MARvelous MAR-Be-Que !

And there you have it.