Outdoor Entertaining Made Easy
It’s summer, and the living is easy. And backyard entertaining, so popular at this time of year, is no exception. At least it shouldn’t be. It’s not difficult to go beyond the typical paper-plate BBQ and create a memorable outdoor party.
Here are some expert tips to help make your next picnic fantastic.
No Buggin’ Around
Pest control is of paramount concern. Who can enjoy great food when they’re busy swatting away mosquitoes or running away from yellow jackets?
Be sure to have a test picnic outdoors at the same hour your event will be held. If bugs are a nuisance, be sure to buy lots citronella candles. Use one large candle (or several smaller ones clustered together) at the center of every table, plus anywhere guests may linger.
To keep bugs off food, use net domes designed for the purpose, or covered containers. Better yet, use a netted outdoor pavilion or tent to keep the buffet table covered, or if your kitchen is near a door leading to your yard, try having the buffet table indoors.
If ants are a problem, use this simple trick: Place table legs in a small cup of water. Make sure to use plastic cups; a guest might accidentally kick a glass cup and break it.
Deter yellow jackets by removing all hummingbird feeders and pools of water in the area – preferably at least a month before the event, since yellow jackets remember areas with these features and return hoping for more. A bug zapper helps, too, as does keeping all garbage cans covered.
Although citronella candles help with mosquitoes, you can also use fans to keep them at bay (and keep your guests cool).
You might also have a can or two of insect repellent in an obvious place, so your guests can use it if they like.
If your event will take place at dusk or dark, lighting is second only to pest control. Avoid harsh porch lights and instead light the area with candles, torches, Chinese lanterns, and Christmas lights. If you’re concerned candle safety, try using LED candles; to make them look more real, cover them with hole-punched tin cans (for a rustic look) or paper bags (which can appear quite elegant).
Be sure there’s enough light for your guests’ safety, and don’t neglect the buffet table. For example, you could cover a pavilion or bushes surrounding the buffet table with white Christmas lights to help make the area a focal point.
Having a theme can really tie things together and make the event more memorable. A theme can be as simple as a color scheme (red and white checks, for example) or as elaborate as evoking a certain setting (like the beach). If you send out invitations, make sure they fit your theme.
Mix and match works very well outside, and means you can use mostly whatever you have around the house. Try using thin, flattish quilts or bed-sheets as tablecloths, for example. Or simply use table runners made from linked handkerchiefs or place-mats.
Paper plates are okay, but if you use them, make sure they are sturdy. Better yet, invest in some simple acrylic dishware; it’s tough to break, is a bit classier. If you buy clear plates (or choose a basic color like buff or white), they will work for most events.
Avoid plastic flatware; it’s wasteful and doesn’t work all that well. Instead, use standard flatware, mixing and matching, if desired. A simple way to display flatware is to use containers you already have around the house. For a homespun look, for example, place forks in their own canning jar with a simple ribbon (or even hay) tied around its neck. For a fancier look, try using goblets.
Make sure there is enough seating for everyone. Mix and match lawn chairs with indoor chairs, and place thick blankets or quilts on the grass. Simple plastic lawn chairs can be dressed up with cushions (they don’t need to match). Or tie a ribbon round the bottom each chair’s back.
Centerpieces should be simple and short enough guests can see each other over them. A Mason jar of simple flowers cut from the garden works, or try baskets of fresh fruit or vegetables.
Have some fun with the napkins. Cloth napkins are back in style for outdoor entertaining, so be sure to check out Our Deer’s napkin folding techniques.
Prepare for wind by having hurricane-style candle covers or lamps. Use picnic table clips to prevent tablecloths from blowing everywhere, and try using hand-painted rocks to hold down things like napkins. (Or wrap a set of flatware in a napkin and tie it with twine or a ribbon.)
An old fashioned lazy Susan is an ideal place for each table’s condiments. Or, get creative and hollow out round loafs of bread, melons, or bell peppers and serve dips, condiments, or salads in them.
Make things easier for both you and your guests by using signs – signs directing guests to the restroom, signs indicating where the bug spray is, signs labeling food and drink (especially helpful if you have guests with dietary concerns) signs that help your guests with anything that’s not obvious. They are simple to make on your computer (go easy with the clip art!) or by hand.
Remember, there are only two basic ways to serve cool drinks: Store them in a refrigerator or place them in an ice-filled container. The latter offers the most creative approach, since you can use anything from a traditional aluminum tub to an old wheelbarrow to an expensive silver champagne holder. Just be sure to have hand towels nearby so guests can remove excess moisture from their drinks.
Have garbage receptacles handy. If you don’t want to use a trash can, try using aluminum tubs; just be sure to mark them with a sign that says “garbage,” so guests know what to do with them.
Think practical when preparing your menu, being especially careful to avoid foods that spoil quickly outdoors in the heat. This isn’t the time to try out complicated recipes. Instead, stick to healthful foods that are in season. For example, grill up some skinless chicken, served with grilled corn on the cob, and offer a variety of berries for dessert.
Prepare as much food as possible before guests arrive. If grilling, encourage guests to make their own kabobs (have skewers and bowls of possible ingredients already prepared).
Check out the video version of this article on YouTube
Outdoor Entertaining Made Easy