So you want to throw a stylish backyard party — something classier than a barbeque but not as fancy as a Gatsby bash.

As founder of SKB Events (, Sarah Brand has seen her share of elegant outdoor shindigs in 11 years of producing domestic and international social functions. We asked Brand to give her advice on holding backyard parties in the North Sound’s great outdoors, some things to avoid and some tips we never would have thought of (cat food? It’s not what you think).

People will serve food not meant for al fresco dining. They will try to be too fancy and make a crown roast of pork or French cheese canapes. They’re either too heavy for eating outside, or it’s too weird to use fine china when it’s on your lap. Stay away from things like artichokes, spaghetti, soup. You’re not going to eat Pho outside. Keep it simple.

The theory of entertaining is to know your audience. We do 10 events a year for the same clients. We don’t do weddings. Know what you want and what they want.

Terrified of bees? We can make all the centerpieces out of mint and tarragon, little tiny herb gardens. They repel bees. If you pick really stinky flowers and lavendar, you’re going to get bees.

We have a cat food trick. Take wet cat food, put it in really shallow bowls on the party perimeter. Bees love it. Bees and bugs. Black flies and bees for sure.

Use lemon balm to repel mosquitoes.

The most successful party is a party with a theme. Mexican. South Texas — have ribs, eight different kinds of barbeque sauce. I’m really big on the buffet idea. You put the salsas on. That’s big when you’re having a party with kids.

Torches are fun and elegant. You don’t have to use Tiki torches. There are plenty of other kinds out there.

Linens are really important. White or red-checked, you can really change a space with linens’ texture and length. To make it more formal, go to the ground. There’s always a dry cleaner.

Use tap lights. They’re circular. Get them at Home Depot. Put a long linen, a 132-inch circular linen, atop a cocktail table and poof it out like a skirt. Place four lights underneath. It glows. It’s very elegant and very grown-up.

Candles are important. For a dinner party, it’s all about the mood. No need for plastic cups. Don’t have to use fine china. But no one wants to drink champagne out of a sippy cup.

Get a tent. We never do an outside party without backup plan. It’s important to be flexible. If you have no backup plan, you are just screwed.

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"Linens are really important. White or red-checked, you can really change a space with linens' texture and length. "