Entertaining Outdoors

By Alisa Star

The success of a party is based on two things and two things only: proper prep and a gracious hostess

Paper plates are fine for a picnic. But when it comes to truly entertaining outdoors, southern women tend to step it up a notch. We want the elegance of an indoor affair transported to a picturesque spot on the back porch, deck, next to a beautiful oak tree or beneath the stars. The good news is that elevating outdoor entertainment to an art form isn›t about spending or stressing more; it’s about incorporating thoughtful details that will catch your guest’s eye.

The most important thing is your table. Pick the area where you want to set up, then start your tablescape! I call this “center stage.” This is where all the action will take place. I always like to have a beautiful centerpiece that’s the focal point of my table. This could be a beautiful vase of flowers sitting on top of a colorful satin cloth, with petals scattered on the cloth. A centerpiece of candles in all sizes and colors makes a beautiful setting as well.

Then it’s time to move on to settings. Commit to a color palette. Depending on the theme of the party, you can do all kinds of things. If you’re having a Mexican food party, use all the color pallets, red, yellow, blue, orange, and greens with a bright throw, lots of colored flowers. You can even throw some sombreros over the back of the chairs. This will sure feel like you›re in Mexico. If you›re doing a more elegant dinner, a white tablecloth with white plates and white napkins with soft candle lighting in the center feels warm and elegant. This gives a nice clean look. Adding name tags is always good, and you can make these yourself. It’s always fun to add your own special touches or sayings that make your guests feel special.

If you‘re having an evening gathering, lighting is everything. Café or bistro lights, particularly the ones strung on fabric cords, turn a backyard into a glamorous twinkling venue. I’m not a fan of oil torches, the smoke can get overwhelming. But if this is what you have, place them a couple feet away from the table, and this will help with the smoke.

It’s important to have a bar area set up, or you’ll be pouring drinks all night and not be able to mingle with your guests. If you have a card table, you can place a nice white tablecloth over it, and a colored one the opposite way. I found that the battery operated light strings laid out over the table works great and gives a soft ambience feel while it gives good lighting to pour drinks. It’s also nice to have your basic liquors out such as vodka, bourbon, tequila, or brandy. Then you will want to have coke, sprite, tonic water, limes and mixers. I always have a pitcher of tea out for guests who don›t drink. A nice ice chest filled with ice is always easy; this allows guests to keep their glasses full and time for you to mingle with your guests.

Music is a must for outdoor entertaining! A music playlist is always nice, but if you know someone who plays guitar, your party will be a hit and will be the talk of the town. If you don’t know of a guitar player, you can always find one in your local paper or online. Entertainers are always looking for gigs, and are very affordable.

You might want to plan a couple activities for your guests; this keeps the action going! A fun game of horseshoes, crochet or playing cornhole with beanbags is the ultimate icebreaker. It’s fun to have a small intimate fire going, with some chairs set up around it. After dinner this is a great place to gather around and tell stories, and remember making smores isn›t just for the kids!

Make your menu simple but elegant. Easy and fresh is always best. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are easy to find this time of the year at local food markets, or weekend vendors. Make your choice of your main dish, then pick three side dishes alongside a nice fresh salad and fresh fruit tray. Pick foods that have a pop of color that makes your table setting colorful and beautiful. In no time your party is off to a great start over good food and good conversation.

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