Summertime is meant for chilling. You know; the relaxing, easy breezy hanging with friends and family. Most parts of the country wait all year long for the warm weather so we can comfortably sit outdoors, entertain, sip on cocktails, nibble on good bites and laugh the warm days and nights away.
I'm here to encourage all of that. And so, in keeping with my love of entertaining and my passion for making lists, here are my tips for hosting a garden party, or anything al fresco.
1. Make the space inviting and comfortable
Have enough, and comfortable seating placed in various locations around your space. You want to encourage groupings to gather and mingle. This also allows your guests to wander around and take in the property, patio, whatever the space from different points of view.
If during the day, have sunscreen and bug spray available in pretty baskets
If at night, make sure there is proper lighting, candles etc. Not only does it help keep your guests from falling off the patio but it creates a warm and welcoming glow.
If you are throwing a really big event, then you might need to place some signs pointing to the bathrooms, so you don't spend your entire time answering that question 60 times. For a small party, no big deal. They have probably been to your home and know how to relieve themselves.
For chilly nights, have a basket of light weight throws, shawls. I have never had this placed out, but do now because I am always running upstairs to my closet pulling out shawls for my guests. Better to have this out and available. It also makes it easier for your guests, as sometimes they don't want to bother you or burden you by asking. Instead they suffer in silence. That doesn't make for good hosting. Of course, a fire pit is also a great idea to have prepped and ready to go.
2. Table setting & Flowers
You all know how I feel about table settings and flowers. It seems silly to restate, but here goes. Taking just a few extra minutes to put a tablecloth down makes the world of difference.
Keep to your theme of the party. Whether it's casual and easy, BBQ help yourself style, or a more formal outdoor sit down, set the table to suit the event.
The topic of plates and utensils is a personal one. I like real plates and utensils. That's just me. I'm not a fan of paper or plastic but certainly understand it's convenience. In this area, you choose whatever is best for you. Because a happy, relaxed host is a good host.
If a buffet, make sure you have an designated area where your guests can pick up plate, utensils, napkin in one easy grab. Also, have a cloth napkin with the serving utensil in front of the dish so it is clear what they should use to serve themselves.
Utensil holders can vary from glass vases to wicker baskets or mason jars. Be creative and use what you have around the house to fit your theme.
You can also preroll all the utensils in the napkin and place them in a bucket or basket.
Place your flowers in various locations to complement your table setting ensuring that guests can see one another, or if on a buffet table, they can reach the food without any obstruction. Who wants flower water all over their ribs?
Florals can be bought flowers or cut from your garden to mimic what is already in your guest view
You can get small potted plants or create an arrangement using small vases of varying heights
You can place flowers or large leaves directly on the table. You get the idea, anything goes. Be creative.
3. Menu - Food & Beverage
You always hear me talking about serving what is seasonal. So no surprises here that if you are hosting a garden party, you don't want to be cooking hot and heavy dishes in your kitchen.
Grilling fish and meat, fresh salads of all varieties using vegetables, fruits and grains.
Stick with food that fits your event or theme.
Cocktail party: have a larger table for the bar and two smaller tables for the nibbles (charcuterie/cheese platters, olives, nuts, canapés, etc
Here are some links for appetizers and summer salads:
Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies. It's a big deal now. Everyone is allergic to something. (Thanks Monsanto and the FDA for helping to poison our food supply. Ok, that's another blog post, Dana. Stick to the theme.) Make sure you have a variety so there is something for everyone.
4. Know your Guests
Each party, each guest list is different. So gear your party towards who you invite and vice versus. Don't throw a dance party with a bunch of senior citizens. Unless of course those seniors know Salsa! Don't throw a sit down dinner with 20 kids. Match your guest list to your event.
If your guest list has kids, make sure you have a couple of fun things for them to do. I used to have some garden games that I put out. Most of the kids in our circle are older now, so we don't need to entertain them in the same way. But I usually like to have balloons for water balloon tosses and marshmallows for roasting available.
5. Plan B
Always be prepared for the unexpected. Weather is uncontrollable. I am all too aware of this. So have a plan B. Ours is always to just move the party inside. For two reasons: one JuanCarlos isn't a big fan of putting up a tent or believing that it is going to rain. Two, we have the space inside to accommodate. When it briefly rained on my sister's wedding with more than 50 guests, they all ran into our living room. Happily, it was brief. But it doesn't have to be rain. It could be a heat wave or humidity. So think umbrellas or fans, etc. Plan B or even C, folks. The key to a good party is everyone is happy and comfortable.
The most important ingredient… you know it. LOVE. Have fun with the people you care about.
It’s Party Al Fresco Time. Happy Summer Folks!