A Happy Hour in the Neighborhood

Seven years ago we moved to our neighborhood and decided that we wanted to know our neighbors.

So, taking matters into our own hands, we launched a regular series of backyard happy hours for our neighbors and friends with the goal of having a casual drop-in/out event in our yard on a regular basis in the summer. Now, seven years later I look back on the impact of this simple event, and it is amazing:

  • We know all the people on our block, almost everyone on the neighboring block, and the folks on the sides perpendicular to ours. Some of these people we are now very close with.
  • When we walk through our neighborhood, go to the farmer’s market, or eat at local restaurants, we regularly see people that we know.
  • I feel like I live in small town America not in a mid-size city like Mountain View.

This article is about helping you create that atmosphere in your neighborhood by sharing some simple instructions on how we run our happy hours so that you can do it too.Step 1: Pick a theme
Successful events have a regular theme that anchors the decor. We decided early on that our theme would always be tiki. That way we don’t have to buy new stuff each time, it’s simple, and everyone knows what it is. It is also a great excuse to hand out plastic leis to people when they walk in the yard. Feel free to use the tiki theme for your own event or find a theme that works for your family.

Step 2: Pick a day and time
We always hold our happy hours on Fridays so that people can just drop by after work before they get all busy on the weekend. Typically we have a happy hour every 3-4 weeks or so in the summer months when it’s warm enough to hang out outside in the evening. Given our work schedules, we don’t start the happy hours till 7 PM…you may want to start at 6 PM to get more of the small kid crowd.

Step 3: Create an email/flyer and pass it out
We like to write a humorous message about what’s going on and then send it out in email and create flyers in Word to pass out to the neighborhood. Here’s an example flyer.
Here’s where the theme starts to come in. Decorate your flyer with accents from the theme to start generating excitement about your event. Then pass out the flyer to all the mailboxes on your block (or beyond!) on the Monday or Tuesday before the event so that people know about it advance but not so far away that they’ll forget. You should also send out your email at this time as well.

Step 4: Get the décor together
Parties need theme décor so make a list of things that are on theme that you can reuse and do some shopping. For example, for the tiki theme we bought some masks from Cost Plus and some tablecloths from the fabric store. Candles are also good for when it gets dark to create atmosphere. Check out sites like orientaltradingcompany.com for simple event enhancements like leis or party glasses.

Step 5: Plan the food and drinks
We usually serve some light appetizers from Trader Joe’s (bread and cheese, hummus and pita, etc.) and if I’m really feeling up to it I’ll bake a treat (but not usually). And, of course we pick up burger fixings like the buns and catsup. We also serve beer, wine, soda, juice and have one mixed pitcher drink like Blue Hawaiians. If you want to save money, you don’t even have to do that. Just have simple beverages and let people pick them for themselves. Also, for those that forgot to bring their own hotdogs or hamburgers, we get a couple of dogs and burgers to throw on the grill so no one goes hungry. Click Happy_Hour_Checklist_Sample.doc” title=”here” target=”_blank”>here to see the checklist we use for tasks for our happy hour.

Step 6: Execute the event
Do the shopping on Wednesday or Thursday and set everything out on Friday. Make sure you set out some cans for recycling and put a note on your front door that people should meet you out back. Then turn on some music, set out the food and drinks, and get ready to hang out.

More Tips

  • When your neighbors come by, smile super big, welcome them, and make them feel super special.
  • Encourage people to invite others (this is a key way that we’ve extended our radius).
  • If your backyard can handle it, encourage people to bring dogs; this makes it feel like even more of a community event.
  • Set out something for kids to play with. In our case we have a small plastic toddler play structure we bought on Craigslist for $25 and assorted yard toys.
  • Consider having something funky in your backyard for adults and kids. For example, in our case we set up a shade structure we used for our wedding and put bean bags underneath it – fun for kids of all ages and nice when the kids go to sleep for hanging and having a beer with friends.
  • Set up a dedicated place for drinks and man it at first. That way when people come in you can make them feel welcome by saying “Hi! Welcome to our happy hour! I encourage you to go see Scott at the bar over there to get a drink.”
  • Don’t expect a huge turnout right away. This is the kind of event that builds momentum. It took us a few years to meet all of our neighbors but even meeting a few at a time is a step in the right direction.
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