As the days grow longer, the kids are finally finished with school, and the stretch of summer lies in front of us, it is the perfect time to socialize with friends, either spontaneously or with a serious plan.

Summer breezes seem to bring us out of doors, counting the lightning bugs, and gazing at the stars. Adding friends to the mix makes the memories even sweeter and builds in the fun.

Congregating on the patio, gathering on the deck, or circling up in the back yard – the location is less important than the company included, yet there are a few tips for the gracious host that will make your shindig the talk of the cul-de-sac.

• Food – keep the menu simple. If cooking or grilling, plan to use some make ahead recipes, or even some prepared foods. Your guests will never know if that potato salad is grandma’s secret recipe or the one from your favorite deli. For a super casual soiree, consider ordering several pizzas (gourmet if you wish) or just offering cheese and crackers or bowls of nuts and pretzels.
• Drink – keep this simple too. Summery drinks that do not require complex bar recipes include a chilled Sangria (so pretty!) or ice cold gin and tonics or vodka sodas. Of course, a non-alcoholic option is always a good idea — maybe some homemade lemonade, or even sparkling water with a wedge of lime.
• Lighting – depending on the outdoor space, consider adding hurricane lamps with nice sized candles to offer a subtle glow, lanterns hanging from porch posts or hooks in the ceiling can spread the light, or add a few tiki torches for a fabulous flicker.
• Music – an outdoor speaker system is super convenient, but even a portable speaker attached to an iPod can add ambiance. Keep the volume at a level at which conversation is still an option, unless you are planning to turn the driveway into a dance floor!

Image Credit: Wicker Paradise