One of the things I love most about summer is how the indoor-outdoor living lends itself so well to more casual and easy entertaining. I find it easier than ever to have people over as there is less anxiety of how everyone will fit in the house, (and how the house looks!)
I’d consider myself a slacker hostess and that’s why I rarely entertain outside of summer. It just seems a lot of work, the planning, the food, but in contrast, summer gatherings are no-brainer. Barbecues practically cook themselves once you’ve got your system down. I do the set-up and sides, my hubs does the grilling and drinks, we both clean-up and he mainly does the dishes. It works like a well-oiled machine once you’ve done it enough and feels easy. Just add a few stylish serving bits to good simple food and you actually might look like you know what your doing! They don’t have to know this is all you can cook. 😉
We have a pool so it’s an excuse to have people over to eat and swim. No other agenda required. I love a easy kind of informal buffet dinner where everyone can grab a plate and then a spot at a table or in the case of kids, steps or even blankets on the ground.
The best way to ease entertaining anxiety is doing it often. Frequent hosts usually have a routine they’ve developed and stick to, which removes the guesswork and stress. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time you have guests! Get a repertoire of favorite recipes, drinks, and you’re set. You shouldn’t think of this as a time to impress, rather a gift of your time to friends and family.
To make it more fun and easy…
Master a couple main courses and sides that work in hot weather. For us that’s something grilled- like chicken, salmon, mango-apple sausages or trip-tip and two cold salads. Favorites are an Asian noodle salad (above) recipe here, one of my aunt’s recipes that feeds a lot and is quite popular, and a green salad using whatever is in the garden with a balsamic dressing, olive oil and some Napa Style Citrus Rosemary Gray Salt, amazing stuff. To this I will add baskets of some artisan breads.
Garden salad with baguettes from world famous Manresa Bread we are fortunate to have in our town!
Pick up a few prepared things. To make it easy we usually buy a dessert. I like cakes or cookies, but we even have done fruit or chocolate popsicles which everyone loves. For appetizers our go-to is the fresh lemon-artichoke dip, or lemon hummus at Whole Foods served with rosemary crackers, seeded breadsticks and whatever fruit and nuts we have on hand. Place this on a pretty tray, and have it ready with chilled wine when guests arrive.
In the matter of drinks, have pitchers of water in carafes chilled ahead of time. If I’m being fancy I’ll add lemon or orange slices. The French lemonade bottles make great water serving bottles if you recycle them. You can fill these the night before, add some fruit or cucumbers, slip them in the frig and have a few for each table. Buy some Pellegrino or mineral water bottles, add some California wines and you’re set. Rose is a popular choice right now and a good accompaniment to summer foods.
If the crowd is bigger, like kids coming to swim, I’ll put the water in big dispensers along with heavy plastic glasses and a Wine Glass Writer to mark their names.
Have your summer entertaining items in a convenient spot. I like having a separate set of utensils for just for outdoors. The darling bamboo flatware sets everyone has now are very reasonable and perfect. I keep everything stored on this little bamboo etagere I got last fall at an estate sale. It’s right by the door to the outside so I can grab what I need or direct others to do so…like my kids.
I have a few melamine plates. I’m not a huge fan, but after cut toes from broken plates I think it’s safer and less worry. These garden themed John Derian plates were a score a few years back at Target. I wish I bought more. I wash them by hand and they stay pretty nice. Believe it or not, it takes no time to wash them by hand and I much prefer that then eating food on paper plates.
I like the designs so much I’ve thought of hanging some on the wall in my garden themed dining room.
I mentioned before I have some heavy plastic glasses that I use for the kids and adults get regular glasses. If you want to keep them nice, wash by hand. I also use tortoise shell looking heavy glasses I found a TJ Maxx. I think they have an exotic feel and mix well with patterns. Keep your eye out for unique little pieces that upgrade your outdoor entertaining and don’t cost a fortune. Trays look nice too for bringing out drinks or appetizers, and they needn’t be plastic.
I love the look of woven trays and use them often. These plates I got years ago at Pottery Barn and just had to have them. They work well with my dark bamboo flatware and the glasses.
I don’t have a ton of storage in my house, so I don’t keep loads of things. Just buy what you love and try to use it. Even though we have a pool we don’t have masses of these plastic serving items, and don’t feel the need to buy too much of this stuff. I see it every summer…The shelves of plastic fish glasses..Don’t do it. Buy a few attractive, classic plastic glasses and plates and mix with your regular things. Even outdoors, I still use cloth napkins and white ceramic platters, glass carafes and bottles. I will use cute paper cocktail napkins and keep a little stash of them.
I’ve sometimes set this up as a bar for kiddos with little snacks and drinks, when it’s a small group.
Low groupings of flowers or potted succulents are a nice touch for tables as are votives in clear glass. Adding a bright or graphic fabrics to your tables looks great in the summer. When I was growing up my grandmother had sewn colorful tablecloths for all her outdoor tables in many shades. Today few of us have tablecloths inside, let alone outside, but they can look great and camouflage an outdoor table that has seen better days. You can make your own with just a few yards of fabric. I go to the fabric store and seen what appeals to me. Measure your table and throw it right on. I’ve sometimes layered it over a plain white or colored one, but mostly not. Trim the strings off the edges and it is perfect for casual outdoor entertaining…or even inside. I now have a collection of these fun fabrics.
This is one of my favorites I’ve used a lot. If you really want to you can use Stitch Witchery and hem it, but I’ve found that not necessary and a quick run over with the iron usually is enough.
Don’t forget you can drag indoor pillows, chairs, tables outside to make it feel like an outdoor room. As long as it’s for an evening or afternoon, they usually can withstand the sun. Rugs are huge for making a space cozy. I also have a stash of bright pillows I keep indoors and bring out for parties. A little pile of soft throws kept in a basket for cool nights, which is most evenings in California, is a nice touch. (I stock up on these when they get marked down.)