By Emily Malloy
Late spring is upon us and temperate weather abounds, which can mean only one thing: outdoor gatherings! I have long been a fan of entertaining outside where so much beauty naturally resides, giving a beautiful backdrop to any event.
This is a busy time of year for parties celebrating graduations, engagements, bridal showers, and so many occasions in between. The main principles of indoor and outdoor entertaining are similar, with a few things to keep in mind:
Whether it is an outdoor or indoor gathering, the most important thing for the hostess to keep in mind is the atmosphere your mood creates. Try to be relaxed! It is possible to serve your guests without being anxious. Your being at ease is what makes a party great fun. So, work out what prep work you can complete ahead of time to enable you to be present to your guests and, most of all, not be frantic. The majority of the details are far less important than warm hospitality and making guests feel at home. Years down the road, folks won't remember so much of the particulars of the event as much as how welcome they felt. Enjoy your company! It is worth hustling beforehand.
If entertaining is a great source of stress, there is no shame in singling out a friend or two to aid in the preparations. We have all been there and are eager to help.
Keep it simple! The beauty of nature does most of the heavy lifting (thank you, God, in all of your wisdom)! Gather a few snippets of flowers from your garden and put into a bud vase. Simple beauty goes a long way. The best part of entertaining outside is that you don't have to concern yourself with the state of your baseboards. There is a particular ease found in an outside gathering; be sure to capitalize on that by letting the garden shine.
Drinks and ice! With entertaining outside comes the reality that the kitchen isn't as easily accessible (for better or worse). So be sure to have lots of drink options available, so that guests can remain outside to quench their thirst. Infused waters are always a hit and add a simple wow-factor. Self-serving beverage stations make for ease in hosting when the guests can look after themselves. Also, be sure to have plenty of ice.
If it is an occasion in which you desire your guests to linger after the sun goes down, make sure to have ample lighting. A simple string of lights adds a cozy backdrop to any gathering. Also, don't be afraid to put your fire pit to use! People are always drawn to the warmth and beauty of a fire.
More often than not, the greatest battle of the great outdoors is insects. But it doesn't need to be a source of stress. If it's a time of year in which bugs are the pits, don't be afraid to place fans around the seating areas to keep those pesky fliers at bay. It can create a lovely breeze if the temperature is hot, as a bonus! Also, you can always make bug spray available for guests or light citronella candles.
Don't be afraid to make use of plasticware. Plasticware has come a long way. If you don't want to use the beloved red plastic cups from your college days, be not afraid! There are lots of lovely varieties of stemware and other simple cups to purchase. And, not to mention the sweet cutlery and plates that are easily sourced--patterned or plain. It takes a great deal of burden off of your plate (no pun intended, I promise) to not have to wash copious amounts of dishes, particularly if you have guests lingering.
Lawn games are a hostess' best friend, fun for children and adults alike. Having options available is a great way to keep guests occupied, particularly if you are serving something that will be cooked while guests are present (i.e. grilling hamburgers and hotdogs). Options range from a classic choice like croquet or some modern favorites like cornhole or ladder ball.
I think if one were to conduct a poll of seasoned hostesses about their primary worry in hosting (second to the state of their bathrooms) is whether they will have enough food. I have found that this fear can be abated with one simple trick: appetizers. They need not be overly complicated: put out simple fare like nuts, pretzels, fruit, cheeses, or chips. A simple loaf of bread paired with a hearty spread takes the edge off of guests' hunger and helps keep the food from running short!
Lastly, in planning an outdoor party, seating arrangements can feel daunting. There are so many options that can mirror the style of the party. Many a time, I have been known to scour the place where pallets are dumped at the local hardware store (at great prices) in search of a low-key and casual place to create a table. Moving indoor tables al fresco with dining chairs is another great option. Highlighting any outdoor seating sets you already have are easy options for guests as well.
There is a particular ease available in entertaining your guests outside as opposed to indoors. It is a wonderful gift to share in God's beautiful creation with those we love. It also helps to know that the greatest part of any gathering are the people present. Everything else is a lovely tool to enhance the joy that is already abundant.