We are blessed in the Pacific Northwest with a moderate climate that makes outdoor entertaining possible from May through September. If you are new to outdoor entertaining, here are a few tips to make it easy and fun:
1. FOOD: Don’t try to do it all yourself. Plan simple menus, prepare most things the day before, and take advantage of the amazing variety of items you can purchase from specialty stores. One of my good neighbor friends, Marsha Buono, tipped me off to New Seasons’ pimento cheese dip for crudités, and Trader Joe’s mushroom turnovers. Yum! You could do entire menu with take out. Put everything on your own beautiful serving dishes–who will know?
2. SEATING: Mix and match chairs to make enough seating if you are planning a sit-down meal. We have wicker, iron, and wooden chairs from inside the house mixed in the photo above to seat 8 around the 48″ diameter table. If you are planning a really large party, and don’t have enough seating, become acquainted with your local party rental company. Most of them deliver, and it’s well worth the money for guests to have places to sit.
3. TRAYS: One can’t have too many trays. They are useful for grouping condiments, coffee service, barware, drinks, and many other small items, and necessary for transporting things from indoors to outdoors and back again. A rolling teacart (photo below), which is a tray on wheels, can be useful as a drinks station, dessert server, or auxiliary buffet.
4. SHELTER: Make sure to have something to give respite from the elements. You can see from the photo above that our dining table is sitting underneath a porch overhang. If you don’t have a built-in shelter, add a large umbrella to your outdoor space (see photo below). If you are having a really large party, and the weather is dicey, renting a canopy makes good sense.
5. COLOR: Pretty dishes and table linens, along with pots of plants, add interest and seasonal color . Cloth napkins and tablecloths, and food served on real dishes, are my preference if we are having 8 people or fewer, but for a large crowd I go with paper plates and napkins. Do what works for YOU–it’s the social aspect of the party that is important. If you don’t want the expense of buying linens for a once-a-year event, give the party rental place a call (that’s what I did this year, since I don’t own a 108″ round, red tablecloth, and really wanted red/white/blue for the 4th of July).
Entertaining friends in the summer is a delight if you plan ahead and start small. It gets easier the more you do it. All of the items I’ve mentioned above are available at a variety of price points, from garage sales and thrift stores to expensive retail outlets. I’ve been collecting dishes and linens for years (my husband teases me that we have enough sets of dishes for TWO Kosher families), but you don’t need multiple sets of dishes to entertain well–just the desire to enjoy the company of friends in your own backyard.