Now that summer is well and truly underway, it’s time for all good hosts and hostesses to consider the possibilities of outdoor entertaining. When the weather is pleasant it seems a shame to be stuck indoors, so try to take that party, dinner or casual get-together outside in the fresh air whenever possible.
Outdoor entertaining doesn’t have to be difficult – if anything, it’s meant to be more relaxed and informal, so don’t stress too much about getting things right. The key elements to focus on are making the most of your setting, serving up some tasty eats, and having a well-stocked bar area – all of which will make your guests feel right at home.
Set the scene
Obviously, having a fabulous outdoor setting makes entertaining a breeze – everyone is happy to hang out beside the pool or in a beautiful garden. However, even if the outdoor space at hand is somewhat less impressive, anywhere you can soak up a bit of sun (or chill out in the shade, depending on the temperature) is enough to give people that summery feeling. So don’t be afraid to squeeze onto that balcony or take over that scruffy bit of grass – summer is all about laid-back living!
Whatever the setting, make sure your guests are comfortable by providing enough seats – don’t be afraid to bring out chairs from indoors, or even spread out cushions if the ground is dry. For a festive feel, consider hanging up some streamers, bunting or even balloons (just make sure they’re well-secured!), or add glass or paper lanterns in the evening for a magical atmosphere. If you like to set the scene from the moment your guests arrive, try lining the walkway or staircase with sparkling tealights – just make sure they’re well away from anything flammable.
Serve up a moveable feast
The best outdoor meals should be fuss-free and relatively simple to eat – remember, your guests may be trying to balance plates and drinks on their laps, so anything that simplifies the task is most welcome. Finger food is often the best option, eliminating the need to add multiple pieces of cutlery to the mix. Hence the eternal popularity of the backyard barbecue – burgers, sausages, and chicken breasts on a bun are both delicious and easy to eat. Plus, nothing says summer quite like the smell of grilling meat in the open air.
Don’t worry if you or your guests are vegetarian, though – there are still plenty of tasty treats that can be prepared on a grill. Think haloumi cheese, veggie burgers or a variety of sliced vegetables, such as peppers, courgettes, or red onions – all flavoursome options that even non-vegetarians will enjoy. If you have the space for a large-scale grill, you’ll be able to prepare multiple choices all at once; but if space is an issue, you can still use a smaller portable grill. This is also ideal for picnics, beach parties or other gatherings held away from home.
One important point to keep in mind when it comes to outdoor entertaining is food safety. Being outdoors in the hot sun makes it even more vital that proper food safety measures are observed, as bacteria will multiply quickly in these conditions. Be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, at least up to the moment of serving – insulated containers and coolers with ice packs can be very useful in this regard. Avoid leaving anything exposed to the air for an extended period of time – anything that has been left out is probably no longer safe to eat. Be especially careful with foods that contain mayonnaise, fish, dairy, or any other substance that spoils quickly, and as always, take care in handling raw meat – be sure it doesn’t contaminate any cooked foods or surfaces with which they’ll come in contact.
Provide plenty of refreshing beverages
While everyone likes the image of themselves as carefree bartender, serving up an endless array of fancy cocktails for their guests, the reality is that cooking and socialising duties usually need to take priority. Try setting up a self-serve bar in a shady corner and letting guests help themselves to whatever they fancy – you could even provide a list of favourite cocktail recipes to inspire any amateur mixologists in the crowd.
Place a selection of glasses, including beer glasses, wine glasses, tumblers and highballs, on a tray and cover them with tea towels or clingfilm to keep out leaves and insects. If you’re entertaining near a pool, remember to use plastic glasses – broken glass can easily damage a pool liner, which is then expensive to replace. You’ll also need a cocktail shaker, stirrers, ice tongs and any other bar equipment your guests might need to get creative.
In terms of liquor, try to provide a selection of standard spirits and mixers to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Beer and wine can be kept chilled in an ice bucket or cooler – think crisp whites, lagers and pale ales rather than heavy stouts and rich reds. Make sure there’s plenty of ice on hand – when temperatures climb, everyone prefers their drinks cold. If you really want to offer something festive and fun, try mixing up a few jugs of punch rather than individual cocktails – it will add to the party atmosphere without being too much extra work.
Once all this is in place, simply add music, sunshine, family and friends, and you’ll be set for the perfect outdoor gathering!
Stella Connor is a travel and lifestyle blogger who writes about numerous topics, from road trips and outdoor adventure to her continuing adventures in the kitchen. She’s hoping for great weather this summer in order to spend as much time outdoors as possible.