The start of summer is just around the corner, which means that it’s time to break out the coozies and fire up the pit for a Memorial Day celebration. While this year’s festivities might be smaller and more intimate than years past due to a certain virus situation (boo! hiss!), don’t let the small size of your gathering stop you from fully getting into the spirit of the season. So without further ado, here's a few helpful tips and fun ideas from Sixoneosix that you can put to good use—even if your Memorial Day entails just you and your roommate setting up the sun chairs on the apartment terrace.
Set The Mood
Good weather, good people, good vibes. That’s all you really need for a great Memorial Day cookout or hangout. Don’t stress over a hard-and-fast start time for the festivities. Keep it casual and let things evolve. If someone wants to play cornhole in the yard when you want to do a group TikTok video, shrug it off. If you forgot the tempeh “sausage” for your favorite vegan, take a deep breath and keep your freak out under control. People want to share experiences (even if it’s just your immediate family—and you’ve been quarantining with them for months) more than anything else. There’s usually a way to course-correct if something goes awry, and those moments are often what makes a party memorable anyway.
Decorate Like A (Laid-Back) Pro
The onset of summer is a time to loosen up and shake off any lingering cold-weather vibes. So naturally any Memorial Day party should be chill and flexible. This means not stressing over a perfectly-set table or going crazy on floral arrangements. By all means, have fun with your decorating wherever possible (put up that red, white, and blue bunting, people), but overly prissy tablescapes don’t really jibe with barbecue. You want everyone to relax—not worry about which fork they should be using. Instead, keep things simple with a washing machine-friendly tablecloth—perhaps in a cute gingham or bandana print—and put cutlery and napkins in mason jars or an open-top basket so everyone can help themselves.
It’s All About The Playlist
Nothing sets the mood like music, right? Give your party legs (or keep it serenely mellowed out) with a well-chosen playlist. Make sure to include a variety of genres and songs from different decades so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. To start the party, classic summer-themed tracks are always a good choice. Songs like “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama are throwbacks that recall memories galore for just about everyone on the guest list. Other surefire winners like “Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone or “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Croft are chill enough to play as background music if dancing isn’t on the agenda. Finally, add in some recent jams like “Hot Girl Summer” by Megan Thee Stallion, Ty Dolla $ign and Nicki Minaj to pump up the volume and round out the playlist.
Invest In A Flexible Outfit
After all the quarantining you did during this past spring, you might feel the need to go full-out fabulous and get gussied up. Awesome! Go for it! But keep in mind any dress or romper you choose should be able to move with you, since hosting a party requires a good deal of bending at the very least—and possibly a belly-flop into the pool at some juncture. Think breezy and easy, like the Navy White And Orange Colorblock Dress with a flowing, trapeze silhouette and sweetly ruffled cuffs. Another top choice: the Blue Stripe Buttons One-Piece Swimsuit, which can double as bodysuit to pair with a full skirt during your outing as a Memorial Day hostess; turn it back into a maillot when it’s time for a quick dip or a spot of sunbathing.
Pre-Prep Wherever Possible
Do you know what’s not fun? Spending the afternoon slicing, dicing, folding and fussing in the kitchen while everyone else is kicking back some brews and sharing laughs in the sunshine. This is the main reason to pick recipes that can be made ahead of time. Do it with drinks as well by mixing big-batch cocktails (or mocktails) that can be stored in the fridge overnight. Here’s a little trick to keep your fruit salad fresh if you make it the day before your party: wash and cut all the different fruits the night before, then store them all in separate containers until the next day. Just before serving, combine them all with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, then toss it together quickly before setting it on the table. This ensures each fruit keeps its unique texture and flavor—the antidote to a mushy, one-note fruit bowl.
Think On The Drinx
Most Memorial Day parties run long, which means people will be drinking over an extended period, starting in the daytime and possibly well into the evening. Prevent guests’ and your own hangovers with low-ABV cocktails, beer, and hard seltzers. Plan to have some non-alcoholic drinks on hand (besides tap water—although even the faucet’s finest can be made better with an infusion of mint, lemon, and cucumber) so teetotalers and anyone trying to pace themselves can partake in the Memorial Day relevery. Kids and adults alike love lemonade, which happens to pair beautifully with barbecue. Make your lemonade stand out by muddling fresh berries at the bottom of the pitcher; this will impart a pretty pink hue and give the whole batch a fresh-picked taste.
‘Cue It Up
The official food of the season, barbecue is the real star of any Memorial Day party. For those of you with a natural gas or propane grill, you probably already know what to do. If you plan to rock one of those portable charcoal grills, beware that they can be a bit tricky. True story, gentle readers: this writer has not once, but twice given her friends food poisoning via undercooked barbecue. Avoiding making the same mistake by keeping plenty of vegetable options at the ready. Grill-ready veggies like mushroom-zucchini-pepper skewers or corn on the cob are easy to make and pose less risk for novice BBQers. If you’d rather not be the go-to gal for grilling the meat this time, someone else on your guest list (this one has Dad’s name written all over it) will certainly be happy to take over pitmaster duties so that you can set up, clean up, or mingle.
Lighten Your Dessert
After all the fire-kissed eats and assorted other noms you’ve served up, a simple summery dessert featuring fresh fruit makes a nice light ending to a festive meal. If you do happen to be pit proficient, grilling fruit such as pineapple and peaches makes them sweeter and imparts an appealing touch of smoke. Serve grilled fruit with plain vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for a delectable mix of textures and temperatures. Another easy option is sliced melon, cut in wedges so it can be held and eaten in-hand. Served this way, it’s a great grab-and-go treat for children who would rather be running around the yard than sitting in their seats.
Strategically Clean Up
A misconception about throwing parties is that you have to do all of the cleaning up yourself. This is baloney! Recruit friends and family who get shy during group events to assist you. Putting them to work gives them something to do besides feel socially awkward and helps you get KP duty done faster. Make it easy for everyone to pitch their trash and recyclables by bringing labeled bins outside and close to the table. Another clutch idea: set out a deep tray near the table (think along the lines of a washable roasting pan) where guests can discard dirty dishes and cutlery as needed, just like they would bus their own table after eating at a café. Take periodic breaks to bring in and load dirties into the dishwasher and bring out the tray again for the next round.