Pick a Theme
Just because your space is small doesn't mean you can't create a fun atmosphere. The difference with your one bedroom apartment and a suburban house with a back yard is that instead of getting giant picnic tables and tents, you get creative with items like cups, plates, table cloths and seating arrangements. Hang up a string or two of white lights and make sure there's food & music.
Theme Ideas: Most people, especially in Chicago, equate Labor Day with the end of summer. Most of us hang on to summer for dear life because we know what kind of weather we're about to get into. So a picnic or semi-patriotic summer theme is always good. Blues, reds and barbecue!
Keep It Simple
You don't have a lot of space to go crazy with, so don't. What is important for any party is that your guests' needs are met which usually means food, drink, somewhere to sit and enough toilet paper in your bathroom (really though, make sure you've got more than 2 rolls). At the end of the day, the people you are with are going to make the party along with good food and decor.
For those plate/napkin/cups decide if you want to go paper/plastic or real. I suggest plastic because it's easier to get more themed items which aren't going to cost a small fortune that you then have to figure out where to keep. One of my suggestions? Use fry baskets for the food. You can order them from Bed Bath & Beyond. Have a handy stack of paper towels (which you can also get plain or in whatever color/pattern you want) and give it an outdoor feel. These jars from Ikea (from 17oz - 68oz) are perfect for drinking out of with straws or for putting condiments or food in. Get stickers to decorate them or plain white labels so guests can put their names on them. You can also get checkered table cloths by Coleman to cover any counter or eating spaces. Cut them to size. They're only $3 at WalMart and also available on amazon.com
Do Not Fear Ordering In
No one's going to judge you for not making your own food. When you have a smaller place, as so many of us do, it can be hard to have enough space to cook all the food and then clean all the dishes before anyone shows up and then display it. So combine the pot-luck theme with the main course ordered in. Lilly's Q has perfect, delicious barbecue with take-out and catering options. I always think it's nice to actually make something unless you know that the kitchen is your personal danger zone. Make cookies, appetizers or dessert. Guests like to have something to snack on when they arrive with an aroma to fill the house. While you don't need to supply all the beverages, clear out your fridge and make sure you have a nice supply of pop, water, lemonade, etc. along with room for whatever your guests bring. As we all know, good parties can also be expensive. Don't feel like the cost of the whole event has to be on you. If you know you have a friend who really loves to cook or has a certain special recipe, encourage him or her to bring it. Include your friends on the food list and don't feel guilty for asking people to bring something. If you supply the food, ask friends to bring apps & drinks. Make a food list that fits your theme and then match it to your guest list. If that someone who makes a great recipe is unreliable and not likely to show up, don't assign them something that is critical to the food supply. Make sure you can at least cover the important stuff or count on the ones who are helping with it.
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