Summer Dinner Party
This is my 5th annual Midsummer Night’s Dream dinner. The theme is very lite. Mostly, it’s about eating delicious seasonally fresh food with friends, an excess of flowers, wine bottles verging on the edge of being too many and laughing under the stars, deep into the evening by candlelight.
By design, my dinner table was built to seat 14 people. I wish it could fit twenty, thirty, forty. Maybe I’ll put Jakob to work and have him build me a secondary table. Also an outdoor table for food display. Better add it to my Honey-Do list.
Below are some of my tips for hosting your perfect summer dinner, and at the very end you can shop my post and find my summer party playlist.
1. Share the Load
Potluck style is truly the only way to go to host (relatively) stress free with over 8 people. No one wants to pined the hours leading up to the party, as well as time during the party, in the kitchen prepping or plating. I start a food thread through social media (we use Facebook’s Event). Start with the main (in this case, roast chicken) and ask your guests to pair either an appetizer, side or dessert. Not only does this far reduce the burden on the host, but it gives everyone an opportunity to share a recipe with the group and create a varied and flavour packed meal. Have your guests bring in their own serving dish with utensils.
2. Rentals, Rentals, Rentals
Most people don’t have place settings for 12+ guests. Doing dishes for that many people isn’t fun at the end of the night, and it’s extra-Not Fun in the morning after. I find renting the glasses, napkins and plates for the place settings to be affordable and pain free. You just have to rinse everything off and stack them back in their box. I have invested in cutlery so I have enough for 14, and those are easy enough in the dishwasher.
For me, it was worth it to invest in 14 placemats, 14 cutlery sets, a collection of carafes/drink dispensers and a variety of vases (bud vases are best for long tables).
It doesn’t take much to elevate your tables cape!
Name Place Cards go a long way. I choose to design my own in Photoshop and have them printed by a local company. There are many services with pre-designed printables. My favourites are Etsy and Creative Market.
Candles are usually a key element of my table: beautiful and ambient.
Florals are the touch that tend to impress people the most. I have gone a variety of routes: farm stand bunches, grocery store bouquets and professional florists. I want this particular party to feel very ‘farm to table’ and rustic, so the florist I hired worked with local in season flowers. Bud vases were placed down the centre of the table. You could easily recreate this with flowers from your garden, a local supplier or just the grocery! The install in the gazebo included a garland and hanging flowers. I’m hoping that they will last for the summer while they dry naturally out there! Keep in mind, florals can remain minimalistic and budget friendly. Foraging for branches and wildflower stems can create a huge impact as a table garland (or, in this case, hanging from above or on a wall). Look to local nature and the season as inspiration.
Water is everything. Whether your guests are imbibing in alcohol or not, they’ll want to remain refreshed. You should have water spread across the table and set up in another area of the party (the kitchen, living room, patio, etc). I like to disperse a few carafes on the table and have a drink station elsewhere. Put a bucket of ice there as well so that your guests can leave their bottles nearby and easily refill their cold drinks without clogging up your fridge (or leading them into your likely messy kitchen). Arrange some non-alcoholic sodas in the bucket to share. I find that non-alcoholic beer is a refreshing choice this time of year and one that everyone can enjoy.
Periodically check in on the drink situation to make sure everyone’s thirst is quenched.
I often like to offer a welcome cocktail. I prepare and mix this in advance, have it in a pitcher, drink dispenser or have a tray of pre-poured glasses for guests to grab as they enter the space. Suggestions: Paloma's, Pimm’s Cup, Peach Sangria.
5. Party Guests
The most important element of your party is the guest list. Try to pick personalities that will jive, with some shared interests, but also haven’t necessarily crossed paths before. I love bringing new people together, so mix in some new faces. When using place cards, put thought into the potential dinner conversations. Try to envision your guests as pairs (the person they are closest with) and put the pair with with people they don’t spend much time with. This will create a comfortable and familiar atmosphere while also encouraging your guests to get to know someone else. It will keep the conversation flowing. If you have a group of people that are a bit more slow to open up, try a dinner game like Table Topics to help the conversation flow. A few bottles of wine, time to settle in, and great food will help this process along as well!
I try to greet my friends with a drink in my hand, a warm smile on my face, and great music in the background, because that’s what gets a dinner party off to a fun start.
– Ina Garten