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AMP Up Your | Summer Gatherings

Things are looking up for Summer 2021. It’s a near-sure bet we’ll have more shared good times than we did last summer. So whenever things open up for you—when you’re comfortable hosting a gathering for family and/or friends— this is a great time to add some extra pizzazz. Here are a few suggestions for making your occasion extra fun and memorable.

Drinks, anyone?
Many of your guests will be eager to lubricate the long-awaited return to hugs and face-to-face conversation with an adult beverage or two. Go beyond serving the usual beer and wine by offering a signature cocktail using any of the wide selection of drink-mixing machines now available to help. For example, the Margaritaville frozen beverage maker blends ingredients with ice into tempting concoctions for around $270 while a lower-priced “Taco Tuesday” version makes slushies for $60 (both available at Kohl’s). Amazon claims a five-star rating from buyers of a Buffetbranded machine for $385 plus many other choices for making signature cocktails to perk up a party. Target says you’ll get “perfect cocktails in seconds” using the Bartesian “Keurig for Cocktails” machine at $349. Regardless of how much you spend, having one of these machines on your counter or bar screams “Try Me!”

Great grilling
Do your plans include outdoor cooking on deck or patio? While we’ve been laying low, manufacturers have been conjuring up more and more options for giving grilling tasty new dimensions. alone has some 30 different choices for electric, gas and charcoal cookers; they claim to “Smoke the Competition” with the largest online selection, all poised for free delivery. And local home improvement stores typically have big grill displays out front this time of year, so if your cooker needs replacing, you’ll likely see something to catch you eye … or nose if you have any olfactory imagination at all. lists trends for 2021, including much more grilling of vegetables, significant use of spice rubs popular in India, Egypt and other exotic geographies, live-fire cookouts that “turn a meal into an entire afternoon’s entertainment,” and “mixed method” grilling. That means combining cooking methods, like slow roasting steak followed by a quick searing to give it a crusty surface char. Several manufacturers are now offering wireless thermometers, so you can check your phone for cooking progress while hobnobbing with guests away from the grill.

Fun and games
How about backyard or driveway games? Cornhole is always popular, and you can spruce it up by organizing a tournament or offering prizes for special accomplishments—Payday candy bars for the winners of each match, maybe a bottle of Virginia wine (or if you wish to splurge, bourbon!) for anyone who throws three “holers” on a single turn. Modify the rules and prizes as you wish; just use them to amp up the competition. Are kids invited? offers a harmless axe-throwing target game youngsters might enjoy. CVS sells a cool wooden lawn bowling game for $33.95.

Light it up
Nothing keeps guests from saying an early “Goodnight” better than an inviting fire. If you already have a masonry fire pit, you’re set; if not, consider an inexpensive alternative that garners the same result. Many new configurations, some fueled by a propane tank, can be found at local home improvement centers or online. And if you need a propane tank refill, you may contact a residential propane tank refill company to deliver some for you.

Luminarios—votive candles in sand-anchored paper bags or perhaps sculpted milk containers—are normally used to make a driveway or sidewalk look extra inviting for holiday gatherings. But why not use them to give flicker to your back yard or patio once dusk sets in? Appoint a helper to light the pre-positioned candles (great job for an attending teenager!) and supply a fire-starting wand to make the job quick and easy.

Outdoor lighting can also be a great mood-setter and magnet for after-dark lingering. Solar path lights and uplight floods or spots are easy for any homeowner to install (no electrician needed!) and will enhance the appeal of your outdoor spaces. Whether you’re shopping a home center’s outdoor lighting aisle or searching online, the choices are extensive.

Party favors
You’ve done folks the favor of inviting them to your soiree, and in most circumstances that would be enough. But you’re celebrating a resurgence of socializing here, so maybe a parting gift will help ingrain great memories of the occasion for days to come. Send guests home with something to delight the palate during their recovery breakfast: a couple of buttery croissants from your favorite bakery, a pack of flavored coffee or even a container of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Include a note that says how delighted you were to enjoy their company and offer best wishes for an enjoyable day or week.

And for those who really think ahead? Consider incorporating an invitation to another gathering, say, six months in the future, in your party favor note. “It was so great to be together; we want to etch another event on your calendar.”

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