Stress Free Entertaining
So summer is almost upon us (thank-you Sun Gods!) and with that brings the very British trait of organising an impromptu BBQ or al-fresco dinner party at the first flicker of sunshine. If you haven’t had the opportunity to have a quick whizz around the garden yet (because let’s face it – it has been soggy to say the least!) check out our Garden Gains blog for tips on how to tart up your garden quickly and easily ahead of outdoor entertaining.
Once you have your outdoor space looking guest ready, here are some ideas to pimp your party . . .
Seven Steps to Nailing the Casual Summer Garden Gathering
There’s nothing like the magic of a chilled summer dinner party where all seems right with the world—the table looks amazing, everyone is relaxed, and the menu hits the spot, so follow these top tips to get you there . . .
1. Marketplace not Menu
Rather than scouring Pinterest for complicated recipes, check out what’s looking great at the local market. Food is such a good way to connect to nature and the seasons, so if you can, go for seasonal organic produce packed full of flavour. When you begin with what’s at the market, the vegetables will naturally take a starring role in the menu, but do go ahead and source some good quality protein or meat from the butchers if budget allows.
2. Set a Simpler Table
Taking a pared-down approach to table settings is chic yet puts everyone at ease. Here is how to keep it simple:
a water glass and one medium-size wine glass at each setting (no need for multiple wine glasses—a midsize one can work for red or white)
a white or light plate—food always looks best on a pale backdrop
a napkin folded on the plate—choose a cotton one, as linen often requires ironing!!
a fork and a knife – no need to get all fancy-schmancy with multiple knives and forks relating to individual courses, and don’t bother with a spoon – when you serve dessert, you can bring the dessert spoons or forks in a mason jar.
Place Cards are a great idea so that no one feels the pressure of figuring out where to sit – they don’t necessarily need to be works of art, torn pieces of craft paper with names written by hand look great on a rustic table.
Once set, take a look at the place setting and make sure that each guest can access everything they might need at arms length so they can help themselves to bread/water and wine.
Of course, flowers are lovely, but for casual gatherings, consider center pieces featuring the herbs you use to cook. Buy in bulk, and use them for center pieces, cooking, and cocktails. Make little arrangements – Basil and Mint are perfect in the summertime – they look fab, smell amazing and guests can literally eat them off the table! Plus these arrangements are low level enough not to get in the way of good conversation (and by choosing them over flowers, you can keep your party expenses down a bit).
4. Take Time to Chill
For many, having people over and feeding them can be stressful – especially when you hit last-minute hurdles. But the key is to relax – everyone (you included) will have a much better time. If you seem stressed, your guests may get a message that ‘this is a burden.’. When you invite guests to your home, your job is to feed them, and take care of them for a night. So even if you’re totally stressed out and the chicken is burnt, just welcome your guests at the door with a big smile on your face and a big cocktail in your hand ready to handover to them!
Better yet, avoid the stress in the first place. Make something you’ve already made before, so you don’t get too caught up in a recipe. Finish the main cooking before people arrive – let the food rest; and reheat or add finishing touches once guests have arrived. Know the things that are a stressor for you – if you need to give yourself time to shower and straighten your hair, to put together the right playlist, or to have a glass of wine before people come, do it.
5. Everyone is the Bartender
The DIY cocktail bar might be our favorite entertaining go-to. It saves the hosts from the messy multitasking of trying to make drinks, greet other guests, take coats, and allows guests have fun immediately. Everyone loves putting their own trademark on their cocktail. It brings out the kid in a pick ‘n’ mix situation in all of us—like, “I put a squeeze of lime in mine and lots of crushed ice!” It’s the perfect way to loosen up a party.
6. Ask for Help
Not only can a few extra hands help practically, but most guests love to make a small contribution to bringing the meal together. Once guests have a cocktail in hand, you could ask them to take on a task—fill bottles with water for the table, dress the salad (since that should always be done last!), light the candles, help carve meat, or bring plates to the table.
7. Give a Toast and enjoy!
Once everyone’s seated and served, kick things off on a high note with a toast. It doesn’t need to be a Father-of-the-Bride-Wedding cringey speech – just a quick toast to your health to set the sentiment for the evening ahead. And make sure you clink everyone’s glass and look them in the eye . . .not that we are superstitious or anything!