Plan a star-spangled celebration this Fourth of July with tips from event pros

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The countdown to Independence Day is officially on. While there’s always excitement leading up to the nation’s birthday, this year—perhaps more so than ever—it’s especially true.

“I think we’re going to see much larger celebrations this year than we have in the past,” said Milestone Meetings owner and founder John Paladino, CIS. “Last summer, Fourth of July celebrations were canceled, so this year it’s going to be a major holiday for many.”

Adding to the holiday celebration, Paladino said, is that this year Independence Day falls on a weekend. “When it falls on a weekend, there are more opportunities to attract guests to an event than when it’s mid-week and people are having to try to get time off work,” he said. “That’s something to consider when planning a Fourth of July event. The guest count could be even higher.”

With the holiday around the corner, planners from across the South offer their tips on how to organize a fun, festive Fourth of July celebration.

Go Alfresco

Anticipation is high, but coming out of the pandemic, many people are still a bit nervous when it comes to crowds and gatherings in general. “We’ve all got to keep in mind that there are some people who are just now starting to go out for dinner in a public restaurant for the very first time since the pandemic began,” said GoPro Event Solutions principal planner Jennifer E. Gowers, CSEP, CMP, DES.

To help keep guests comfortable, opt for an outdoor setting—which, fortunately, is the traditional Fourth of July setting anyway. Ever-popular backyard barbecues, lakeside gatherings, and pool parties are often what come to mind for the Fourth. “Open-air spaces are the way to go this year, and there are ways to help beat the heat, such as tents,” Gowers added. “Simple purchases like pop-up tents don’t cost a lot, and you can always re-use them later for so many other things.”


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Festive Food

An easy way to celebrate is to incorporate the flag’s colors into the food. Strawberries, blueberries, and bananas are a great way represent, whether with a flag-shaped dessert or fruit skewers arranged into a flag design. Or, keep guests cool with red, white, and blue popsicles. Another easy but festive dish is colored pasta with cherry tomatoes and white cheese, notes Meetings Alliances meetings manager Mark Freeman.

Trendy New Treats

There may be traditional menus that comes to mind for Independence Day gatherings, but this year, planners are encouraging clients to alter the traditional dishes to create fun, new fare. Instead of a basic burger, freshen it up with the addition of a fried green tomato or take the lead from favorite local restaurants and try something similar at home.

“A favorite new dish of mine is from a local hotspot, Back Forty Beer Co., and it’s a Conecuh Sausage hotdog topped with pimento cheese,” Gowers said. “You could easily create your own version at home. Another local restaurant, The Southern Kitchen & Bar, has a great Southern stir fry with fresh okra, sweet kernel corn, shrimp, Conecuh sausage, and cherry tomatoes, and you could easily try to do something similar at home that would be perfect for the Fourth.”

Some planners are seeing people opt for altogether different menus than in years past, sticking to the healthier eating that many have adopted during the pandemic. “I’m seeing people dropping the heavy starches and looking at items that are easier on the palette and are fresher and lighter,” said Paladino. “Instead of heavy pastas, perhaps instead slaw. Instead of red meats, some are starting to transition to fish.”

Cue the Cocktails

No party is complete without cocktails, and beverages are another way to bring on the creativity. Freeman suggests keeping with the red, white, and blue theme with the cocktails by creating American-flag themed margaritas or punch. “It’s an easy way to get a little more festive,” Freeman said. “You can also carry the idea over into mocktails if preferred or make it even easier with lemonades garnished with strawberries or blueberries.”


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

DIY Décor

When hosting outdoors, a lot of extra décor isn’t necessary, but there are some simple touches that can be added to punch up the event. The traditional bunting in red, white, and blue is always a crowd favorite, Gowers said, but there are simpler ways to show off patriotism, such as taking temporary paint and a star stencil and painting red, white, and blue stars in the grass.

“It’s super cute and will wash away,” Gowers said.

Balloon displays have become big deals for all types of celebrations, and it’s an easy DIY way to create an easy but elaborate display to wow guests and even provide a spot to take photos for social media.

Instead of decorating with red, white, and blue, the colors could be worked in by having attendees wear them. “If playing games, the color attendees are wearing could be the way people are broken into teams,” said HelmsBriscoe manager of global Accounts Keshena Patterson. “You could also have red, white, and blue wristbands for people to wear, and each could signify something as well.”

Event Entertainment

When it comes to the Fourth of July, fireworks are the standard. This year, if your group is nervous about attending a large municipal firework show, consider hiring a company to have your own, said Freeman. “There is a company near me in Washington, D.C., that will put together firework displays for smaller groups, which allow you to still have the traditional show but on a smaller scale.”

For entertainment options that don’t require a lot of space—and can work well if guests are still trying to maintain a degree of social distance—consider a magician, Paladino said. “A magician can be tableside and meander around the room to keep from having a large group squeezed together in a small space.”

For a truly unique experience, consider out-of-the-box and interactive options. You could bring in a mixologist to host a cocktail class, Patterson said. Look for local companies in your city that could bring the entertainment to you, suggested Gowers. For example, in Birmingham, Ala., there’s a new flower company that will bring a vintage truck, complete with flowers, to your location. “You and your guests could pick out stems to make a bouquet,” Gowers said. “Guests could create bouquets and then take them home.”

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