I’m going to say it…eating outside is the best part of summer. There is nothing better than enjoying a relaxed dinner on the deck, surrounded by family or friends, chatting while the kids run around. As the sun dips and the shadows grow, a cool breeze blows through the yard, the glow of the lanterns gets brighter and the conversations deepen. It’s a time that no one hopes will end!
But summer entertaining can be stressful. It’s hot and sometime the last thing you want to do is a lot of prep work just to get ready for a party. Summer is the time for EASY entertaining, so my best advice is to leave the complicated food and decorations for the winter holidays and go with simple for the summer. Your guests will be just as happy and you, as the host, will hopefully enjoy it as well.
These are my best tips for simplified summer entertaining:
Keep the decor simple
Summer is not the time to worry about fussy linens, so keep the base simple with a runner made of brown kraft paper or wrapping paper in a neutral print. Not only is this easy to lay down, it’s even easier to clean up. I usually ball it up and throw it in the compost when the party is over! Easy!
For a party with lots of kids, you could even add crayons to keep the littles busy! I remember loving restaurants as a kid that had paper on the table, so why not give it a try at home? I bet even the adults will get into it!
Centerpieces can be very very simple, but still beautiful. Small vases of cut flowers and greens from the garden, pots of herbs, or even baskets of bread can make beautiful and casual centerpieces. I’m particularly partial to lanterns or candles, because they give off the most lovely glow as the evening gets darker.
These wire lanterns are airy and see through, so they don’t block faces mid conversation. Also, these can be used many ways, in many seasons. Can’t you just see these on a fireplace during winter or on a porch for the holidays?
Serve family style
Food can (and should!) be kept simple. The last thing you need when you are hosting is a too complicated meal that makes you hot, stressed and tired just as your guests are showing up. I’m a big fan of simple meals served family style. Often all it takes to complete the meal is a salad and bread, both of which can be easily bought at the grocery store. Plus, it makes it easy for guests to serve themselves and means less clean up for the host.
Here are some ideas for simple, family style meals:
- clam boil
- roast chicken
- grilled salmon
- flank steak
For this dinner we did a simple seafood boil with clams, sausage, corn and potatoes. It’s really simple to make (everything cooks in one pot!) and looks beautiful when served in a large serving dish. The trick is to start with a pot about half full of seasoned water (water, broth/wine, salt, old bay seasoning) and then add items to the boil based on longest cooking time. So you would first add corn, then potatoes, then sausage, and finally clams for the last few minutes.
While I love serving family style for the meal, sometimes individual desserts are just the ticket for jazzing things up. Baking individual desserts in ramekins or oven safe containers are almost just as easy as baking in one large container, but your guests will be delighted to get their own bowl.
I baked up a mixed berry crisp with a nut and granola topping, but here are some other individual dessert ideas:
- creme brule
- chocolate mousse
- individual fruit cobbler, crisp or pie
- giant cookies
- individual mug cakes
Self serve drinks
Drinks are one of my favorite ways to simplify hosting. Instead of spreading myself thin trying to get everyone a drink while simultaneously cooking dinner, I set out a self serve drink station and tell people to help themselves. This can be as simple as a few bottled drinks in a bucket or a more elaborate bar set up. Either way, when you set out drinks + glasses + ice, you have an easy start to your gathering.
Enjoy your summer!
With the time that is remaining in this fast moving summer, I encourage you to host an outside dinner with family or friends. It’s not too late, I promise! Text your friends or neighbors and ask them over for a casual dinner or happy hour on your deck. Sit in the shade, stay up too late, enjoy the company and cherish every moment before summer slips away.