tips + how-tos
TIPS + TRICKS
SET THE SCENE
Set up a well-oiled cocktail station. Leave a fresh batch of drinks on ice with plenty of shatterproof glasses and bandanas for cleaning spills. And make sure there are lemons, limes and extra hot sauce for guests to add their own finishing touches.
If you've got flowers, flaunt them. Pluck a few from your lawn, then toss into mugs or glasses (choose some sturdy enough to hold up to a strong breeze). Stagger them down the table in a sweetly imperfect pattern.
While dinner cooks, let the games begin. Pull out bikes and skateboards, sporting equipment, or toys like hula hoops and Frisbees from the garage, and let the kids and adults play together.
SET THE TABLE
Lose the linens and use a sheet of brown paper: Tape the ends to the underside of the table; after dinner, have a friend help you unwrap, then toss the mess right into the trash.
Set out bowls of broth (reserved from the grill pan) and melted butter for dunking, as well as empty pails for guests to toss tails and shells into.
Keep the feast casual and outdoorsy with a hands-on policy: Let guests use fingers or seafood picks instead of forks.
Offer extra spice: Fill seasoning shakers with Old Bay and leave them out for on-the-spot flavoring. The spice blend will complement the seafood, sausage and potatoes -- and the tomato-based cocktails.
Leave guests with a memory of the delicious feast -- not the scent. Before the party, dunk a few washcloths or thick paper towels into cold water. Roll and stack them on a tray and place in the fridge. After the meal, serve them with lemon wedges for partygoers to clean their hands.
Jennifer Sbranti, founder of hostesswiththemostess.com, has fresh ideas for fair-weather fun.
Reinvent Charades Make a list of celebs, such as actors, bands members or reality-TV stars. Write the names on scraps of paper and have each guest choose one. The mission: to impersonate the celeb using only charades-style clues (no speaking!) and fun props (just leave out a pile of movie-star sunglasses, hats, and accessories like beaded necklaces or bowties) while the other guests guess.
Have a Chipping Contest Create a chipping "net" -- any large box or some blocks will do -- then lay out ping-pong or small foam balls, a stopwatch and a few golf clubs (a 7- or 9-iron will give the ball some lift). Make teams, then specify a short amount of time for each guest to try to chip the ball into the net. Shots that hit it within the time get 1 point, and shots that make it in score 3.
Make Tasty Arts and Crafts Take advantage of the great outdoors with edible finger painting: Lay craft paper (or paper leftovers from the meal) on the lawn and let kids create designs with pudding "paints" -- vanilla pudding colored with food dye.