22 July 2014

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10 of the best summer party themes


By Damien Gabet & Heather Steele.

From a quirky vintage circus to a lively music festival we bring you the 10 hottest summer party themes for 2014.

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We’ve got a mammoth year ahead, haven’t we? Up in Scotland, they’ll be hosting both the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. In South America the Brazilians will put on sport’s biggest contest, the World Cup, with a goodly amount of us staying up into the early hours shouting at plasma screens in pubs. 

2014 is also revealing its myriad trends. They’re dictating what we choose to expose our senses to, what we wear and what’s on our Spotify playlists, among other things.

Point is, there's no shortage of good inspiration for your summer party. There’s so much to go on, in fact, that we couldn’t decide on a single theme. So, with the inclusion of a few stone-cold classics, we've given you 10 beautifully thought out ones instead. Everything you need for a banging 2014 summer party is in the pages ahead. Go forth and organise.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The course of true event organisation never did run smooth but, courtesy of Stratford upon Avon's finest, this theme will certainly help

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The opening scene

To set the right tone from the off, make sure your invites are on theme. There’s a growing trend for laser-etched wooden invitations, and the earthy element of the wood will match well with nature-loving decoration and text.

Getting your guests kitted out in the right kind of gear will add to the overall look of the place and get people in the party mood. Just don't trust a corporate crowd to turn up in full fancy dress. Instead, make sure you have a dress-up box near the entrance so that guests can put on one or two items that you’ve hired from a dress-up specialist.


The wooded realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon: if finding an enchanted coppice in central London is beyond your power as an events fairy, then all is not lost. If possible, host the event outdoors, though. A walled garden spilling over with trees and colourful flora will do half the decorating for you. Aim for somewhere with a lawn too: grass under foot means guests can go shoeless and get in the ethereal mood.

Weather proofing your event with a marquee is a good idea and many providers offer structures that come with decoration to suit your event. Fairy lights amid faux flowers will go a long way.

As with all party themes, it’s the detail that will capture your guests’ imaginations. For dinner, go for battered wooden tables, shabby-chic candelabra and summer flowers everywhere. Try presenting anything bottled with a handwritten tag. 

To serve, go ornate – nature-loving art nouveau table settings translate well. Crystal will bounce all that soft light around the venue.

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Fare, dame?

So what do people from Fairyland actually eat? Well, whatever it is, you’ll find it in a wood. Edible flowers remain on trend, so use them liberally atop canapés and cup cakes. Ask your caterer about fresh courgette flowers. Fried tempura style with goats’ cheese, they’re a treat. As for the meaty dishes, work English game – pheasant, wood pigeon, rabbit – into the menu.

We love any excuse to use elderflower. Cordial or St-Germain in Prosecco is an easy cocktail to make en masse and will be well received by arriving guests. Garnish with thyme for added authenticity. Booze swervers should enjoy cloudy ginger beer or lemonade.

Happily ever after

The boldest entertainment option would be to hire an acting troupe to put on the play itself. A simpler option is to project a film adaptation onto a large screen or wall. Secret Cinema’s model of having actors perform certain scenes among guests during the screening adds an interactive element.

The centrepiece of the play's penultimate act is a group wedding, which could be played by actors with the help of your guests. A central attraction like this could mark the beginning of a post-dinner dance.

Vintage circus

Roll up, roll up! From big tops to candy floss, a circus theme has all the makings of a memorable party summer party

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A circus theme begins with the decoration. Make sure to kit your big top tent out with plenty of boldly coloured bunting and big signs with circus-style fonts. Hay bails are cheap and easy to install and add instant authenticity. They'll also create a natural stage area for entertainment or that all-important speech from the boss.

Vintage-themed circus groups are easy to find and by simply adding one or two spectacles – think tight-rope walkers and flying trapeze artists – you can add instant wow factor.

As for food, quick-to-eat, hold-in-your-hand fare is best: hot dogs, dirty burgers and deep-fried everything. Straw-hat food vendors giving out toffee apples, candyfloss and popcorn will keep the party's sweet-toothes happy.

Although, strictly speaking this is more fun fair than circus, setting up vintage-decorated amusements such as a hit-the-bell high striker – the gents will love this one – and a coconut shy will be a fun addition and draw the crowds.

The World Cup

The quadrennial footballing fiesta is back. Here's how you can do your bit to drum up some support for Wayne, Stevie and the rest

Anyone outside of the US – and some inside – knows what’s going on in Brazil this summer. The beautiful game and its finest goalsmiths will compete in the 20th Fifa World Cup. As many of you will be watching our boys play anyway, we thought it might be just the right time to host a party. June is the month to aim for, with England’s first matches on the evenings of the 4th, 19th and 27th.

Things should obviously revolve around the game itself, so making sure everyone can see the screen(s) is important. Setting up a projector is inexpensive and provides the best atmosphere, with everyone huddled together. As for decoration, we thought it would be fun to extend the theme to all that is Brazilian.

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Greens, yellows and blues should be key in your colour palette, with as many rainforest props as possible. A few multicoloured plumages will give things a fun carnival atmosphere. Food and drink are a no-brainers too. Have the caterer serve up churrasco-style BBQ – which comes as a variety of skewered meats – and keep guests refreshed with bottomless caipirinhas.

No Brazilian-themed party would be complete without a troupe of percussionists. Be sure to ask them to make things interactive – everyone likes to hit the skins.

The Commonwealth Games

Ready? Steady? Then make like Glasgow and go put on an international event

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There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth. That’s plenty of inspiration for a party. To set the right tone, it’s a good idea to decorate the place in flags and other national paraphernalia. 

Try ascribing countries to dinner tables and have guests dress up accordingly. Arrange all this in the invites and you’ll have much of the groundwork for theming out of the way already. Start the fun with athletics-inspired competitions to build an appetite before dinner. Try a more relaxed Commonwealth quiz once dessert has been cleared.

Street food remains somewhere near the top of the trend table, so ask your caterer to offer country-specific treats in a buffet style. As for drinks, you need look no further than our antipodean friends for inspiration on beer and wine.

As it’s the Scots who are hosting this year’s Commonwealth Games, it would only be right to give them a nod with a ceilidh to see the night off. By that time, most guests will be feeling brave and merry, so getting everyone up on the dance floor shouldn’t be a problem.

English garden party

This one is a classic theme that cannot be ignored. But the good old tea party will always spell out summer. Just add Pimm's and bunting

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No crusts, please

It is the food that will make or break your proper English garden party. A finger food buffet works best. Guests can then take their pickings and sit at the cast-iron garden sets you've laid out.

If you’re keen on something a little more informal, lay out picnic blankets with hampers. Place names are a good idea so you mix things up and have people chatting to colleagues from around the company. Cucumber sandwiches are, of course, where one begins, but think about the smoked salmon and cream cheese variant too. Quality Scotch eggs and English mustard always goes down a storm.

Tea should be in bottomless supply – and served in mismatched bone china – along with the scones. Eton mess keeps things quintessential, while those looking for a lighter bite will appreciate a bowl of strawberries with a touch of double cream.

Chapel Down sparkling wine will quench Anglophile thirsts but, if that’s a bit too ritzy on a large scale, there are some perfectly palatable alternatives at a cheaper price. So as everyone’s not rolling around on the floor an hour in, well-diluted and fully fruited Pimm’s jugs may be in order. Those who want to go ABV free will still feel awfully English with cucumber-ginger fizz served in jam jars.

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Bunting season

There’s something about those colourful triangles of cloth on string that says Blighty loud and clear. So, too, does a white picket fence. Ask your prop supplier to provide a faux version. A manicured lawn will save the knees of your picnicking guests. Blackboards and chalk should be used wherever signs are needed, while your use of English meadow flowers will tie a bow in the look you’re after. Rows of jam jars with flickering tea lights will add a warm glow to your party after dusk.

Smart not casual

Ladies, should be pointed towards modesty and innocence. No hot pants here, please. A tea dress of their choosing with a parasol will complete the look nicely and is easy to do. It should be chinos, short or long, for the gents. Advise them to match with a long-sleeve gingham shirt, or something similar, and finish with a linen jacket. Oh, and have some Panama hats to hand for when they arrive.

Music festival

Take your lead from Michael Eavis and you could score a big hit

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You’ll want to be outdoors for this one. Pop up some teepees and tents, park up a campervan and you’re halfway there. Design invitations to look like VIP passes and put them in lanyards so they can be worn on the day, along with wellies, flower crowns and neon paint. A battle-of-the-band-t-shirt competition will help complete the look.

Entertainment is easy: either book a covers band or hire in a rockaoke group (where guests can sing karaoke with a live band). You could also go all Glasto and hire some circus performers.

Food should come from a gourmet burger van or falafel truck, while the beer and cider should be served in paper cups. 

And if it rains? Get some branded ponchos knocked up in advance. Mud optional.

American BBQ

Food from across the pond is trending big, so here are all of the ingredients for a star-spangled day out

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Let’s be honest, this is all about the food. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could consider hosting a pitchfork BBQ, where guests spear their own steaks onto pitchforks to cook over a bonfire. Want something more traditional? Set the tables with red and white chequered cloths and adorn the place in stars and stripes.

For the carnivores, a feast of ribs, burgers, pulled pork and hot dogs will hit the spot, although you’ll also have to keep their hands off the veggies’ mac and cheese, buttery corn on the cob and frickles. Apple pie with ice cream, followed by toasted marshmallows, will make sure everyone’s full to the brim, so work up an appetite with a group game of softball or frisbee.

Make sure there’s plenty of cold beer (we’d pick Sierra Nevada), bourbon and margaritas on offer, as well as refreshing homemade lemonade. If you want to go for a dress code, consider Texan cowboys or all-American red, white and blue.

British seaside

Sun, sea, sand – you'll be lucky to get your hands on all of them, but you can still enjoy all the fun of the fair

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From Brighton to Blackpool, the seaside has been a place of childhood traditions since the Victorians descended on the coasts in their masses. To recreate the scene in the city, deck your venue out with striped bunting, rubber rings and deckchairs. Think of the cleaners and go for sandpits instead of mounds of the loose stuff. Hang beach balls and seagull models from the ceiling, and plunge candles into buckets of sand to decorate your dining tables. 

Serve fish and mushy peas in cardboard boxes with wooden forks and chips in newspaper cones. For afters, be sure to have an ice cream van on site. Donuts and candyfloss will also go down well.

Entertainment? If a herd of donkeys is too much, get Punch & Judy in, and make sure there are peep boards around for photo ops. If you want to go more modern, rent some old arcade games. Don’t forget to theme your invitations – a saucy Victorian postcard will set the right tone.


The Swedes know how to put on a summer party. Just don't thank them for the music

The kräftskiva (or crayfish party) is one of Sweden’s most important social events. To replicate it, decorate outside tables with white paper cloths, hang paper lanterns, lots of flags and garlands of flowers, and ensure you have a supply of themed plastic bibs (you’ll need them), paper hats, blond wigs and daisy chains.

Next, you’ll need the crayfish – and lots of it. UK rivers are full of ’em so go local or nip to IKEA (they have party packs in summer). Pile them up high with plenty of dill for everyone to help themselves. The feast should also include bread, crispbread and Jarlsberg cheese.

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For drinks, serve ice-cold aquavit plus bottles of Carlsberg or Tuborg. Lingonberry squash will go down well with teetotallers.

No Swedish party is complete without songsheets and group sing-alongs. In between drinking songs, spin Robyn, Abba and Europe in the background.

Oh, and don’t forget a midnight snack – the Swedes serve meatballs and mash or hot dogs to soak up all the booze.


Nail this theme and your party could be like Notting Hill Carnival – without the crowds

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Get your guests ready for a ‘jump up’ by sending out flight tickets as invitations and having a dress code of bright prints, grass skirts, cricket whites and dreadlock wigs.

For decoration, pop up palm trees, parrots and a rum shack serving punch in pineapples, cans of Red Stripe, and Ting for the non-drinkers.

Jerk chicken, plantain chips and coconut shrimp will do the job for dinner.

End the night with a limbo competition to the sound of a steel drum band.

This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, spring 2014.

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