Upgrade Your Memorial Day Cookout

Try something new to elevate your summer kickoff

On the last Monday of every May, Americans mark the beginning of summer with a nod to those who have lost their lives serving their country. Although it can be a somber event, many people choose to celebrate the same way: with a Memorial Day cookout. 

Meetings that fall near the holiday can benefit from getting the Memorial Day treatment, but that doesn’t mean you need to stick with the same old foods, brews and party games everyone has seen year after year. Here’s how to break the Memorial Day barbecue rut and kick off summer the right way. 

Amp Up the Menu

Memorial Day is a cue to heat up the grill—but that doesn’t mean you have to serve your attendees the same food they’ll be eating at their own summer cookouts. Alongside the hot dogs and hamburgers, offer guests an updated menu with unmistakable foods fit for every palate. Cure your meats with one-of-a-kind spice mixtures, cook up vegetarian fare fit for grilling (think black bean patties and veggie kabobs) and make desserts festive by utilizing red, white and blue ingredients to match the holiday.

Keep in mind that barbecues aren’t sit-down-and-eat events; people often stand and eat while talking with other guests. Use the occasion to challenge yourself and your team to create bite-size meals that will make hanging out easier for your guests.

Create a Signature Cocktail

It’s true that nothing goes better with a warm summer day than a cold beverage, especially one of the alcoholic variety. And while a cold beer (in a Koozie of your choice, of course) is a barbecue staple, consider adding a refreshing cocktail to the drink menu. 

Whether tequila, vodka or bourbon is the liquor of choice, you can stick with tried-and-true summer cocktails (most of these can be easily scaled up for punch-bowl-style serving) or come up with something new. Every cocktail has its own personality, so match your liquor with the mood of your event. Attendees will want to try your concoction because of its exclusivity to the event, but remember that it is summer, after all. With the heat, your guests will likely want a light, cool drink, so nix rich liquors and flavors, such as coffee, that might be better suited for a colder time of year.

Don’t forget that not all of your attendees will want to drink alcohol, so prepare fun and refreshing nonalcoholic drinks, too. Try a new punch recipe or switch up classic lemonade with other fruits such as strawberries and lime.

Set the Stage

Décor for Memorial Day can be tricky—you want it to be festive and patriotic, but not too exuberant lest the purpose of the holiday be forgotten. Bandanna-print napkins and table coverings can lend a sense of Americana without being over-the-top cheerful, as can red, white and blue accents in a floral (i.e., not stars and stripes) print. 

If you’re looking to amplify the solemnity of Memorial Day, consider having a tasteful photo display of local veterans who gave their lives while serving their country, with a signature book for attendees to write memories of the veterans in their own communities.

“Backyard” Games

Beanbag toss, bocce ball, horseshoes and more—there’s no doubt your guests have played them at barbecues time and time again. And though they might be backyard classics, you don’t want your event to be like all the Memorial Day parties they’ll be going to on their own time. Don’t be afraid to put on activities that will let your guests loosen up. One fun twist on a classic idea: Pick your favorite childhood games and supersize them. Jenga, Connect 4, checkers and more can all be played on a larger scale. Have guests create teams or let them play solo—the same old rules will apply, but the nostalgia will keep them playing round after round.

Have an Indoor Plan

Weather permitting, your Memorial Day event will go off without a hitch. That said, Mother Nature is fickle, so it’s not always possible to have your meeting indoors. In that case, find a way to bring the outdoors in. For example, set up your space with different potted plants and trees, lights that mimic natural sunlight and patio furniture to give your meeting that backyard feel. 

Memorial Day barbecues are an American favorite, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need adjustments from time to time. Whether you stick with last year’s agenda or try something new, your barbecue is sure to be the perfect way to kick off the summer season.