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At our house, we love to entertain friends and family whenever we have the opportunity. And in the summer, opportunities abound! From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there is no shortage of picnics, barbecues and celebrations (we have a lot of summer birthdays in the family).

However, I find it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to summer time get-togethers. I gather up paper plates, throw a few burgers on the grill, put out a cooler of beer and call it a party. This year I decided it was time to change things up a bit!

I was inspired by some friends who always have the most stylish get-togethers that appear totally effortless. They always have a tablecloth over the picnic table, real plates and fresh flowers—and it makes a big difference. Their parties are beautiful and unique. The extra touches give everything a more stylish feel, even for a casual gathering.

So with this in mind, I started pulling together some staples for my summer gatherings. Here are a few things to help make your next party a little more “Martha” and a little less college frat house!

Decor

  • Place mats
  • Table runner and/or table cloth
  • Candles/candle holders
  • Nice serving dishes for appetizers and dips
  • Glasses and white plates (they go with everything and look a LOT better than paper or plastic—plus, they are better for the environment!).

Consistently using these few items will jazz up any get together! As you can see, I like primary colors—plus, the red and blue work with summer holidays. You can mix and match your décor items all year round—in the end, it will be a much more economical choice than streamers, balloons and paper products.

Want to see more details on my American-themed décor? Click on the links below for more information!

Mason jar mugs say, "summer!"
  • A table runner is the easiest thing in the world to add a little splash of color to your party decor. Check out these from Pottery Barn.
  • These versatile blue place mats from West Elm come in a ton of different colors!
  • Check out Crate and Barrel’s collection of candle holders for a quick, easy way to add ambiance to any gathering.
  • Mason jar mugs from Pottery Barn: Mason jars are all the rage for decorating these days. They look even cuter when you’re serving up a cold beer or colorful cocktail—much nicer than a big red plastic cup.
  • Serving dishes from Williams Sonoma: Designed for outdoor use, this little caddy of three dishes is great for dips, appetizers or any finger food! It’s a lot nicer than eating chips directly out of the bag!
  • Pottery Barn salad serverstrimmed in red add a nice finishing touch.

    Attention to details like these salad servers will make your party memorable.

Food

It’s easy to get stuck in a burgers-and-corn-on-the-cob rut when you’re having a group over. Next time, try one of these options to add a little variety.

  • Best-Ever Pasta Salad
  • Grilled pizza
  • Kebabs
  • Spoon bread
  • Make-your-own-sundae bar
  • Taco bar
  • Nutella Rice Krispies treats (Super easy! Just stir in ¾ cup Nutella to melted marshmallows before you add Rice Krispies in!).
  • Lasagna Toasts

Drinks

A cooler filled with beer and pop is always the easiest way to go. Nobody wants to spend an entire party mixing up Mojitos. Never fear! Bacardi now has Bacardi Classic Cocktails Light in Mojito and Pina Colada flavors. Throw those in the cooler along with the beer and your guests will have a happy surprise when they see all their options! Not only are these new cocktails delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day, they are light on calories! You know what that means—instead of drinking all your calories, you can have some dessert!

Another trick I like to employ when I’m throwing a big party is using big plastic buckets instead of coolers. Fill them with ice and sit them in the shade, and it’s much easier for guests to quickly identify where to find their favorite drink. Don’t have any buckets? Label the tops of your coolers. Then you won’t have kids rooting around in the alcohol cooler when they should be in the juice cooler! And don’t forget to leave a bottle opener nearby. I like to tie it to the bucket so it doesn’t get lost.

Remember, the key to enjoying your party is to plan ahead and do the majority of your work ahead of time. When your guests arrive, you should have a drink in hand and be ready to welcome them and enjoy all the compliments on the beautiful bash you created!

BACARDÍ Classic Cocktails Light is a new line of low calorie, ready to serve cocktails. At less than 95 calories for a 4-ounce serving, BACARDÍ Classic Cocktails Light is available in Pina Colada and Mojito flavors and is made with natural flavors, real juice and pure cane sugar. Whether enjoying a favorite cocktail after a long day or throwing a party, BACARDÍ Classic Cocktails deliver classic cocktail taste that’s a hit with friends, won’t add inches to your waistline and won’t take all day to prepare.

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Bacardi via Glam Media.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Bacardi.