Memorial Day party checklist

May 15, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. ET

Memorial Day allows us to show our respect and gratitude to the men and women who have lost their lives fighting for our country -- and is also considered the unofficial kickoff of summer fun. Celebrate Memorial Day this year by hosting a party for family and friends.

Woman hosting Memorial Day party

These Memorial Day party planning tips and our handy checklist will make throwing a Memorial Day party a breeze.

Who and where

Location: Start by picking out a location for your party. For small gatherings, a backyard barbecue is your best bet. If space is an issue, consider having the party at a local park or other outdoor venue.

Guest list: Plan your guest list. Take into account that too many people could be an issue if guests have to compete for a place to sit down. Also consider that a lot of people will be staying for just an hour or two if they are invited to multiple parties.

Invitations: Send out your invitations as soon as possible. Paper invitations are cute and all, but who wants to waste time and money purchasing, addressing and mailing them? Instead, use online invitations through email with sites like and, or through your Facebook page, if most of the invitees are your Facebook friends.

Eat and drink

Menu: Though hamburgers and hot dogs are traditional fare, you can grill just about anything. Consider brisket, chicken, ribs and sausage, as well as an assortment of grilled vegetables.

Potluck: Consider a potluck for your side dishes and desserts. As the host, you can supply the entrees and beverages, and rely on your guests to bring everything else. Keep track of who is bringing what -- you don't want to end up with 10 bags of tortilla chips and nothing else. Ideal Memorial Day sides include chips and dips, mac and cheese, beans, salads (green, macaroni and potato), corn and other fruits and vegetables. If you are grilling burgers and hot dogs, don't forget the buns and condiments.

Beverages: Set up coolers and/or beverage stations with iced tea, lemonade and soda, as well as beer and wine. You can create a signature summer cocktail party instead of having a full bar. Consider sangria, bellinis, strawberry daiquiris and other summer drinks.


Seating: If you don't have a lot of outdoor furniture, move some of your indoor furnishings outside. For a big party, consider borrowing (or renting) extra tables and chairs.

Decorations: Decorations for a Memorial Day party are easy. Use balloons, streamers and pinatas, as well as American flags and flowers. If your party is going into the evening, don't forget about lighting -- candles, paper lanterns and tiki torches are all fabulous choices.

Stay cool: Keep your guests cool with umbrellaed tables and plenty of paper fans. If your food and beverage stations are outdoors, make sure they are under an awning or canopy. Keep food safety in mind during your party.

Buffet style: The easiest way to serve a crowd is buffet-style. Set up a long table with plates, napkins and utensils at one end, and all the food on easy-to-serve dishes, platters and pans. Encourage your guests to cycle through the buffet swiftly by keeping beverages, condiments and desserts on separate tables.

Memorial Day party checklist

At least two weeks ahead

  • Decide on a location.
  • Make your guest list and send out invitations.
  • Set your menu and solicit potluck dishes.

One week ahead

  • Create your shopping list for groceries (don't forget the ice and sunscreen!), beverages decorations and other items.
  • Arrange for extra tables and chairs, if necessary.
  • Follow up on any guests who haven't RSVP'ed.

Two days before

  • Go shopping!
  • Dust off outdoor furniture.
  • Clean the grill.
  • Check the weather report.

One day before

  • Move furniture outside.
  • Put up decorations, umbrellas and canopies.
  • Set up outdoor toys or games (badminton, croquet, horseshoes, swimming and volleyball are fun).
  • Label trash and recycle cans.
  • Cook and prep food in advance if you can.

Party day

  • Add drinks and ice to coolers (a couple of hours ahead).
  • Start grilling!
  • Arrange food, beverage, condiment and dessert stations.
  • Have fun!

More about Memorial Day

Healthy Memorial Day menu
What to wear for Memorial Day outings
Top 10 Memorial weekend trips