A backyard bbq is a staple of summer, and can be a great way to bring the family together to enjoy delicious food and excellent company. Here’s how to throw a successful backyard bbq for your next event.

Katlyn Graham:  Hello, I’m Katlyn Graham, here with Maureen Woodman, the director of sales at Woodman’s. Today we’re talking about how to throw a backyard party. Welcome, Maureen. Thanks for joining us.

Maureen Woodman:  Thanks, Katlyn. I’m so glad to be here. I’m really excited about this.

Katlyn:  You are the expert on throwing parties, so we brought you in to offer some tips for all those people who are thinking about throwing a backyard party. Coming up on summer, it is the time of year to throw a backyard party. Maureen, what kind of space do I need to throw a backyard party?

Maureen:  It’s really important to have a flat space in the perfect world, somewhere, whether it has hot top, or it’s grass ‑‑ somewhere where the people can walk around your yard. You can put your tables and chairs down, but there’s not a lot of structure in your way, when you’re trying to have them be comfortable getting up to the serving tables, and get their food.

Katlyn:  So hills aren’t a good idea, and you want to have a clear area, it sounds like.

Maureen:  Yeah, but not a lot of rocks, or garden in the middle, or a keyhole garden landscaping. A beautiful…I would say if you had a 20 by 20 square patch of grass, that would be lovely for a 40 to 60 person party.

Katlyn:  OK, so that gives us an idea of dimensions. What else do I need to throw a backyard party?

Maureen:  When you would call the clambake catering office to start your process, the first thing we ask you would be about lighting, if you’re going to have a nighttime party. If you need a tent, tables, chairs. Where we could cook? What kind of water source that you would have. Whether we should provide water, or you have an outside garden hose.

We always want to make sure, in case the fire on the coals, or something goes off, we can put the fire out. We do bring our own fire extinguishers, as well. I think lighting is nice if you’re going to go from dusk into nighttime, but you can always use some candles to make the atmosphere a little pretty. But if you’re going to have just a regular Sunday afternoon party, you wouldn’t really need to have any lighting.

It’s also nice if you have a driveway where the clambakers, and the caterers can come up, and drive as close to the party, but not have the truck encroaching on your actual party. Somewhere they can walk between point A and point B, be out of your way, and your guests really don’t see the backdrop of what’s going on.

Katlyn:  I wouldn’t have thought of the hose, but I guess where you have fires, and a potential for a fire, you need a hose. That’s a good tip. How many tables and chairs do I need, Maureen?

Maureen:  I like to do a clambake usually on a rental table at 60 inches, and I like to put 8 people, as opposed to 10. If you went to a normal function facility, a lot of times you will put 10 people at a 60 inch round, but with the clambake, the food is so big, as well as a lot of discard bowls for shells, and butter, and broth, and you use a lot of napkins.

The food is just extra super large, so I think if you put eight people at a table, times guest count. For example, if you had 40 people, divide that by eight. You would need six 60‑inch round tables, and then I always like to have a couple extra chairs, because people don’t sit ‑‑ it’s not like assigned seating when it’s in your backyard. People like to get up, and mingle around.

I also like to have one six‑foot table long, that you could put for the bar, even if you’re not going to have alcohol. You might want to have beer, or wine, or just soda, or lemonade, or whatever you’re going to have. If it is a party ‑‑ whether it’s a graduation or a birthday ‑‑ it’s always nice to have a little four‑foot table for gifts, or a birthday cake, or celebratory cake. I like to use that.

Woodman’s would provide two eight‑foot tables for the food. You wouldn’t have to worry about that. The other thing that I think is a great little tip with tables and chairs ‑‑ if your yard is particularly windy, or you’re on the beach, it’s always better to get a linen tablecloth that has heavier weight, so that it doesn’t blow over.

If you’re going to get a paper, or plastic cloth, I recommend that you get a 120, which goes to the ground, so it can’t get picked up by the wind. Also, when you do your centerpieces even if you want to go with something fun, or nautical, make sure they have rocks in there, weighted down, so they don’t blow over.

A lot of times, people would get pretty little flowers, fill them with water, get paper tablecloths, and then the thing tipped over, and the whole paper tablecloth was gone with water. There are some nice rubber‑backed, or plastic linings that you can pick up at the party store, or again, Woodman’s can provide those for you.

Katlyn:  Linen is also a little bit classier, I would think, too, if you can afford to get that. How many drinks do I need? It’s more than one per person. Do you estimate three? How do you do that?

Maureen:  Actually, what I do, is I take whatever offer you have. If you had beer, wine, soda, bottled water, I add that up, and I multiply that. For example there would be four choices, and I would multiply it by 1.25 times guest count. It’s kind of a weird formula that I use. Basically, you would end up with like 5.5 drinks times the people.

Thinking that each person would have one beer, one glass of wine, one glass of water, and one soda.

In the end, it always comes out. It will work. You will not run out, and you will not have too much. If you do provide your own alcohol service, you can go to the liquor store, buy what you want. If you use a liquor store provider, they do that count based on what I suggest, but they also have what’s called the buy‑back.

Any unopened case, they come and pick up, when they pick up your stuff. Again, the goal is not to run out of anything, but also not to be stocked with a lot of stuff, either.

Katlyn:  That’s a good tip. They’ll buy it back. I didn’t know that. What about food? How do I know if I have enough food?

Maureen:  Same thing on the food scheduling. Actually, a smaller party, 0 to 35, the food scheduling is much closer to what you really need. It’s actually a little bit of overage. Where, if you had a large party in your yard, 150 people, the food scheduling would be a little less times guest count, because as the numbers go up, people don’t eat as much.

Where, when the numbers are very small, everyone will eat everything. It’s a matter of putting the number in a formula that we have at the office, and we figure up, because again, the same thing as with the drinks, we are not going to run out of food but we’re going to make sure that there’s not a lot of waste.

We also provide take‑out containers, if you ask for them. Where, it’s at your house that we can wrap everything up. A lot of time the clambakers will chop the lobster for you, so you don’t have to deal with the shells. We’ll pack it up for you, so it’s neat and tidy, that you can put in your refrigerator.

Katlyn:  You don’t want a ton leftover, but a little might be nice. A little treat of Woodman’s after the party. Now, you had referenced before, the truck not being in the middle of the party, but close enough so that workers could have access to it. How far should the cooking be from the serving of the food?

Maureen:  We like to have the cooking, and the serving as close as possible. The other tip for the cooking, remember we use propane on some of the boiled items. We have propane on our grilled items. We want to make sure that there’s no low foliage hanging around where we’re cooking.

For example, if you had a weeping willow tree, we wouldn’t be cooking under the weeping willow tree, where the foliage would be close. The first thing that the caterers are going to look for, is an area that is safe for the cooking. Then, they usually will set up the area for the serving. They try to make them in very close proximity, so they’re not going back and forth, and the food can stay very warm.

Once the food comes up, we want to put the food on a table, because we want you to have that food as hot as possible. Remember, everything is either steamed or boiled, depending on what it is, and you want to see that be warm when you get it.

Katlyn:  Oh, definitely. You want the warm food. Close together, all the cooking and serving. Now, this is kind of a dirty topic, but a relevant one, and important when you’re having a party. Can my septic system handle the party‑goers, or do I need to rent a portable potty.

Maureen:  The beauty of the portable toilets right now, they make what they call the Cadillac, so it’s not that ugly green Jiffy John, like we’re all used to, that you would see on a construction site. There are actually some lovely units out there, that rent very reasonable, that have hand sinks in them, and foot pumps.

They have nice doors. They actually have mirrors in them, and lighting. If you feel that there’s going to be a lot of pressure, or you feel like you just don’t want people traipsing through your house, I think if you get one of the nicer units, that it’s OK. But, in my experience, it seems the men will use the portable potty, and the women are always still going in your house.


Katlyn:  Isn’t that the truth? My goodness. How do you make sure you have fun at the party, Maureen?

Maureen:  Back in the early ’80s, one of our best taglines that we had for marketing was, “Be a guest at your own party.” Once you can release the managing, and the control, and you choose a really good caterer. You choose some good entertainment. You go with an excellent rental company for your tents, tables, and chairs.

You hire a bartending service, and/or you use a liquor provider to drop off your alcohol. I think then, you can really relax, and have a good time. Just like anything else, if you surround yourself with extremely qualified people, you can be a guest at your own party, and try to relax.

And you should, you’ve worked really hard. It’s very expensive, usually, to have a party like this. Most likely, it’s some special celebration that you’re trying to share with your family and friends. Why not enjoy yourself? You’ve worked really hard.

Katlyn:  Don’t try and do it all yourself, because that won’t be fun, I think.

Maureen:  That’s right.

Katlyn:  Any other important tips you have, Maureen, that you want to share with party hosts?

Maureen:  I think that your food…I always say, the two secrets, to me, would be surround yourself with people that love you, and pick a really good menu that is food that is not what somebody cooks in their house every day. That’s the beauty of the clambake. People get really excited about steamers, and lobsters, and mussels, and corn, and watermelon, and shortcake.

It’s not food that everybody is cooking in their house on a day‑to‑day basis, and if you surround yourself with the excitement…One of the things people really do, is they watch the cooking of the lobsters. It’s very funny how the men will sit there with their open bottle of beer, and just watch. That always kind of got me.

I was like, “What are they looking at?” It’s like a food experience. In a funny way, it’s probably like an original cooking show. Little did we know what we were doing, but we were giving experience to people where they felt like they were part of it. It is fun to just experience it.

Katlyn:  Oh, definitely. Thank you for all of your wise words, Maureen.

[background music]

Katlyn:  I’m sure there will be lots of fun parties this summer.

Maureen:  Thank you, Katlyn.


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