How to Host a Backyard Beer Fest (Responsibly)

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Munich’s Oktoberfest, the California Beer Festival and other alcohol-related events held around the world have inspired many outdoor entertaining enthusiasts to host their own beer fest-style events in their backyards.

You do not have to be in college to enjoy this type of party, but those of us who graduated more than a few years ago might be a bit unsure about hosting a soiree centered around beer — particularly if we did attend those college parties and remember just how out of hand they could get.

If you are interested in throwing a backyard beer fest but are not quite sure how to go about it in a way that is both fun and responsible, read on for tips on what to serve, how to keep your guests entertained and how to get everyone home safely.

Although this post focuses mostly on hosting an event along the lines of Oktoberfest and similar beer-centered festivals, these tips can be used for any party where adult beverages are served.

It is difficult to host a barbecue without beer or a dinner party without wine, since your guests will likely expect these traditional options.

Therefore, these tips might come in handy the next time you partake in some weekend grilling with friends — even if they leave the lederhosen at home.


Safety First


Since getting everyone home safely should be at the top of your party planning priority list, let’s start with some safety tips to keep in mind when hosting a gathering where drinking alcohol will be one of the primary activities.

While I am sure your main goal is for everyone to have a great time and get home safely, it is important to keep in mind that there is some potential for liability if one of your party guests gets in an accident on the way home.

California, as a whole, limited social host liability when they amended California Civil Code section 1714 in 1978; however, they brought part of it back in 2011.

Since 2011, a party host that knowingly serves alcohol to a minor can be held liable if that minor injures someone else on his or her way home.

This is, of course, aside from the fact that you can also get in trouble just for serving alcohol to a minor, even if they all arrive home without harming themselves or others.

So the first rule for your next beer bash is do not serve alcohol to minors.

It does not matter how much they beg, if their parents say it is okay or if you think they can handle it.

It is best to avoid the potential of them getting hurt or you being liable for injuries caused to others.

Along the same lines, it is best to not charge a cover charge for your event.

If you are providing lots of alcohol and food, costs can add up quickly, but charging a cover to defray these expenses can subject you to a different kind of liability called dram shop liability.

Dram shop liability is what makes pubs, nightclubs and restaurants liable if they serve a minor or a visibly intoxicated person who then causes injuries to others after drinking at that establishment.

If you charge a cover charge for your party, and a minor who paid that cover consumes alcohol, that is considered selling alcohol to a minor.

Additionally, if you charge a cover, your party may be considered a pop-up nightclub, which is what leads to dram shop liability coming into play.

Some cities and counties have their own laws about social host liability, so it is always good to check with your local governing body to see if additional laws may apply where you live.


Here are 15 more tips to help you put safety first:

1. Limit drinking games to avoid overindulgence.

2. If you have certain friends who are known for enjoying the drink just a bit too much, get their keys early and make sure they have a ride home.

3. Consider hiring a shuttle service to safely deliver inebriated guests home.

4. Give prizes to designated drivers, and keep them honest with a sticker, floral lei or other identifiable object that will help you keep an eye on things and quickly determine if someone is sneaking a drink.

5. Consider getting a breathalyzer intended for personal use. You can turn it into a game to get your more intoxicated guests involved, but it is great for helping you dissuade folks from driving when they think they are just a little buzzed.

6. Be prepared for a couple of overnight guests in case a partygoer or two has a bit more to drink than they had originally planned.

7. If you will be using a fire pit during your party, cover it with a sturdy screen, keep seating a safe distance away and place patio furniture or plant containers in a manner that discourages guests from using the area around your fire pit as a main thoroughfare.

8. Take steps to keep inebriated guests away from your pool, such as securing the gate or keeping the party corralled on your covered patio.

9. Stop serving alcohol before the party is over to allow your guests who plan to drive time to sober up.

10. Keep the phone number for your local taxi company handy for guests who need a safe ride home.

11. Keep inebriated guests out of your outdoor kitchen.

Let your sober guests be your helpers for grilling, cooking and serving from your patio kitchen to help avoid the potential for injuries.

12. Remove tripping hazards from your patio and walkways.

13. Make sure your outdoor entertaining areas and pathways are well lit.

14. Have a first aid kit handy in case a tipsy guest gets small cuts or scrapes.

15. Keep a phone nearby in case of more serious accidents.

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How to Keep Your Guests from Getting Too Drunk


Once we hit adulthood and are past the college years, most of us have a pretty good handle on how much we can drink and how to pace ourselves at social gatherings.

However, circumstances — like hot weather, a lack of food or a heavy-handed bartender — can sometimes catch us by surprise, and we may end up a bit more buzzed than expected.

Here are 11 ways you can help keep your guests from getting too smashed while still having fun:

1. Hire a bartender or designate a drink-savvy friend as the barkeep for the night.

Having one person (or more if it is a large party) in charge of serving alcohol makes it easier to keep an eye on how much individual guests are drinking and provides a way to cut them off or start pouring their drinks light on the alcohol if they are enjoying themselves a bit too much.

Open bars work great for some events, particularly if guests make their own drinks and know exactly how much alcohol is going in them.

However, if guests start mixing drinks for other guests, it is more difficult for your guests to monitor their alcohol intake.

2. If you have a bartender, make sure they pour drinks as they should be poured.

A heavy-handed bartender makes it more difficult for experienced drinkers to pace themselves and for inexperienced drinkers to know when they have had enough.

3. Encourage your guests to stay hydrated by making water readily available.

To make it more appealing to your partygoers, add sliced cucumber, mint, berries or citrus to the water.

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4. Keep your guests out of the sun.

It may be impossible to keep your guests out of the sun completely when entertaining outdoors, but provide plenty of shady spots to help keep your guests from drinking excessively in the sun on hot days.

If your covered patio has ceiling fans, this is an ideal central gathering place for your party.

5. Encourage mingling by creating grouped seating areas and leaving plenty of open space for folks to stand and chat.

6. Provide lots of food options, particularly snacks and finger foods.

Finger foods give your guests something to do other than drinking, and foods that provide carbs and protein help slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed.

Pretzels and salted peanuts are generally considered the perfect pairings for beer, but keep in mind that pubs serve these foods freely because salty snacks make people want to drink more.

So avoid foods that are overly salty, and stick to chips and dip, cheese plates and other foods that are easy to eat and high in protein or carbs.

If you are going for an Oktoberfest theme, you may want to serve traditional German foods, such as sausages with sauerkraut and mustard.

7. Organize fun games and activities to keep your guests busy and entertained.

Party games and holiday-themed crafts are a great way to entertain your guests and give them a fun activity to do to slow down their drinking.

You can even make some of the games a competition and give prizes, such as bottle openers or beer glasses, to the winners.

8. Limit drinking games.

Drinking games can be fun, but they do encourage guests to drink more than they would if left to their own devices.

9. Provide plenty of mocktails and virgin versions of crowd favorites to give your guests appealing options other than alcohol.

10. Provide pre-made, bulk beverage options, such as sangria or spiked punch, so that you can control the amount of alcohol used in drink preparation.

11. Allow your guests to have an empty glass in front of them for a few minutes before you offer them a refill, rather than topping off half-empty drinks.

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Pre-Party Preparations to Consider


Plan ahead to avoid run-ins with local law enforcement and feuds with neighbors.

Inviting your neighbors to the party is usually a good way to curtail complaints during and after the party.

If you do not know your neighbors, or they do not seem like they would be good party guests, you might want to let them know about your party in advance so they are not surprised when there is no available street parking or the noise level goes significantly above the norm.

It is also a good idea to be familiar with your local noise ordinance so that you know when it is time to take the party inside or call it quits for the night.

Also, be sure to respect your neighbors by letting your guests know where to park, keeping inebriated guests out of their yards and reminding your guests to keep their voices down as they are leaving.

It is best to keep beer fest-style events adults only, but if children will be in attendance, set up a separate, supervised section with games, activities, food and drinks just for them.

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Final Thoughts on Being a Responsible Party Host


Being a responsible party host does not have to take the fun out of outdoor entertaining.

It simply provides some boundaries within which your guests can get a little wild and have a good time while making an effort to avoid any mishaps or undesirable consequences.

With most of these tips, your guests will most likely have no idea that you did a little pre-planning to make sure things go smoothly.

It is much more likely that they will simply appreciate the abundance of food, array of drink options, fun activities and good company that made the night one to remember.


Photo Credits (in order of appearance):, phillybeerambassador