Some of us love entertaining at home and some of us loathe it, but the fact is that at some stage or another (usually during the silly season), we all decide that we’d like to have a ‘few people over’. ‘A few people’ usually equates to 37 people in your backyard, because we are parents and parents come with an entourage, and the entourage often wants to invite their own entourage along, too. So you ask a few families over for a barbie and suddenly you are catering for the masses.
I understand that the thought of all those hungry people often stops a person from inviting anyone over in the first place. My good friend is one such person – she invited us over for an evening barbecue a little while ago but told me our invitation came “with strings”.
“What are the strings?” I innocently asked.
“You have to show me how I’m going to make dinner for 37 people without having a heart attack into the roast chicken,” she responded.
“Step one,” I answered. “Don’t make roast chicken.”
None of us have an oven big enough to roast enough chicken for 37 people. If you want to serve roast chicken, buy some barbecue chooks from the deli, break them up and serve them on a gorgeous platter with a choice of three delicious homemade sauces on the side. Sauces that go beautifully with chicken include:
- Lemon parsley sauce
- Bearnaise sauce
- Creamy thyme sauce
- White wine sauce
- Honey garlic sauce
- Rocket and basil pesto sauce
So, that’s my first tip for stress-free summer entertaining. Here are 20 more.
1. Plan ahead
Some of the things that need a good plan to result in a relaxed host include:
Food and drinks preparation
What will you serve and when can it be prepared? Can you get most of it ready in advance? Where will you store the prepared food? Can you keep everything hot or cold depending on requirement? Where will you keep the drinks? How will you keep them cold? Will you serve appetisers? Will guests bring a plate? Drinks?
Do you have enough glasses, plates, cutlery, bowls, food servers, bowls and serving dishes? Will you serve your guests buffet style or a sit down meal? Will you top up their glasses or show them where the drinks are kept? Do you have enough recycling and general bins? What time will you serve food?
Do you have music in your party area? Have you made a playlist? Will there be dancing? Can guests play their own playlists?
Will you decorate your home for the party (see below)? Do you need to rearrange any of your furnishings or borrow some (see below)? Will you clean before guests arrive? Fresh flowers?
What will happen when on the day? Contingency plans and what ifs?
2. Make everyone feel comfortable
Nothing kills a party quicker than everyone not feeling like they have enough space … or somewhere to sit down and relax. If you don’t have enough chairs for everyone to be comfortable, borrow some from the neighbours.
To make space, clear out any furnishings that aren’t needed for the party. Arrange your chairs in intimate groups rather than around in one big circle, which is immediately intimidating when guests enter the party. Set up small tables with each group of chairs for people to put their drinks down on – use stools, crates and leftover tree off-cuts (we have plenty of these in the backyard, ready to go – pick some up next time you see some by the side of the road after someone has had a tree removed).
Finally, make things a lot easier for your guests (and yourself) by making sure you set out plenty of visible bins and recycling tubs for bottles. Ensure your guests can easily find their own drinks, glasses, ice, bottle openers and (very important this one) the toilet.
3. Sort the little kids out
Providing a safe area for young kids to play in can take the pressure of parents while they mingle. And nobody deserves some relaxed mingling more than the parents of young children! Some quick and clever ways to corral the kids include:
A designated play area
Even if you don’t have a specific spot for play, create one just for the party. Bring all the toys into one area that’s visible from the grown-ups’ party area and ensure that the space is safe and interesting. A little table and chairs with drawing materials ready to go, plus a few soft toys and other activities will be enough to let the kids know it’s their special space. A line strung from one side of the room to the other becomes a place for them to hang their drawings and a visual barrier between the kids’ area and the grown-up party space.
Give it a theme
To really light the kids up, ask them to dress as their favourite character and have a few activities and sweet treats set up to go with the theme. Fairies and superheroes are always a hit.
Consider a babysitter
Hiring a few local teenagers to look after the smaller kids is a great gift to give your guests. This will allow your guests to truly relax while their kids are treated to some fun and games.
Provide a simple lolly bag
Little guests are always delighted to receive a lolly bag at the end of a party and getting one after a grown-up party is especially nice. It doesn’t take long to throw a few lollies and balloons into a cellophane bag, but the thank yous will be long-lasting.
4. Sort the bigger kids out
Like the smaller children, the bigger kids will be happier if you’ve planned some ideas for entertaining their friends in advance. Board games, DVDs, craft activities and art supplies will all be a great idea. Set them up in their own area (bedroom, family room, etc). Team efforts like colouring or decorating a large sheet of paper together, or practicing for the late-night ‘concert’ are always loads of fun.
Keeping some special foodie treats aside just for the kids and allowing them a little more freedom than they would ordinarily get at home is often all you need to do to make the event special for them. Discuss your expectations and any rules to be followed before the guests arrive.
5. Pick a colour
It’s a shame not to grab the opportunity of guests to go to a little trouble with your decorating. A decorated party feels so much more special – something I talked about over at Planning with Kids last week. The simplest way to make a party look fabulous is to pick a colour and go large. You can add an accent colour (or two), but keep the bulk of your arrangements to that one colour and everything will hang together beautifully. Arrange flowers in your colour, add bolt of fabric for a tablecloth and string up some pretty garlands…
Garlands are so festive and you can make them so cheaply and easily, it seems a shame not to have a few at your next party. Here are some lovely ideas for making something pretty:
6. Pay attention to lighting
Lighting sets a mood, and if you are having an afternoon-into-evening party you can use lighting to create a lovely ambiance. Tea lights in jars are a gorgeous way to indicate that the party is really settling in. Collect your jars for weeks in advance, wash them and set them out with a little sand in the bottom of each of them. Light a tea light and put inside.
String lighting is also popular these days and clear bulbs are being replaced with old-school multicoloured ones. They look so festive swinging between poles or trees or around a backyard patio. Turn them on even in the day to spark the party atmosphere.
You can also replace standard lightbulbs with coloured bulbs to turn each room in your home a different colour – the kids love this one!
Other lighting ideas include:
7. Don’t leave your guests hungry
Quick hot nibbles
The best little appetisers are ones you can make quick-as-a-flash en masse. Little quiches are perfect because you can prepare them in advance and put the flat trays into the fridge until you need to cook them in the oven. You can vary the quiches quickly and easily by changing ingredients you add to your eggy mix: sundried tomato, ricotta, goat’s cheese, herbs, and bacon are all yummy options that satisfy a crowd. Use shop-bought puff pastry as a simple base that is ready in minutes.
Quick cold nibblies
If you prepare an elaborate antipasto platter I guarantee you will receive the Host of the Year crown. People go ga-ga for deli meats, dried fruits, cheeses, pickled vegetables all laid out on a huge platter. I use a piece of 50 x 40cm MDF board (which incidentally are the exact dimensions that fit on the top shelf of my fridge) covered in foil as my base, layer it with spinach and rocket leaves and then load up with a huge array of good deli foods. One side is the cheese area – add at least five cheeses, two soft, two hard and one goat’s – the other side of the platter is for nuts, fruits, and pickled vegetables. The middle is for a selection of rolled deli meats – mortadella, ham, chicken breast, turkey, pastrami and salami are great. The best bit is, the whole thing can be prepared in advance (covered and kept in the fridge, hence those careful tray dimensions!)
8. Make the main meal super-easy
Homemade pizza shop
Did you know you can bake pizza under the hood of the barbecue? I know! Here are the instructions via the kitchn. Make your pizzas in advance and pop them on the barbecue when you’re ready to eat. Try this 2-ingredient pizza base or even this cauliflower base then click here for a whole host of toppings. You could even set up a buffet and let guests make their own. Here are some ideas:
- Roast pumpkin and chorizo
- Silverbeet, broccolini and mozzarella
- Sweet potato, goat’s cheese and pine nut
Open a burger bar
A ‘make your own’ burger bar is a brilliant way to serve up food when a full party is in swing. Grill the burgers on the barbie, toast the buns alongside and put them into baskets for guests to help themselves. Jamie Oliver has some great ideas for making a basting sauce for the beef burgers and he also does condiments like no other, so click here to find his ‘insanity’ burger recipe. We LOVE Jamie’s insanity burgers!
Great condiments for the burger bar include:
- Homemade mustard
- Caramelised onions
- Bread and butter pickles
- Spicy homemade tomato sauce
- Homemade mayonnaise
Or a pasta bar
Cook three or four different pasta sauces in advance and heat and serve with a variety of pasta types. Guests can serve up their favourite combination with ease. The pasta bar is a relaxing way to cater for a big party crowd. Ideas for sauces include:
- Crowd-pleasing spag bol
- Fettuccine carbonara
- Spaghetti with lemon and olives
- Creamy pumpkin penne
9. Finish with an ice cream bar
Set up an ice cream bar so guests can create their ideal combination of ice cream flavours, lollies, sprinkles and toppings. You can prepare everything in advance, including pre-scoops of ice cream: scoop out the ice cream onto flat trays, layering them up between sheets of grease-proof paper. Bring the trays out when it’s dessert time for guests to take a scoop. If you serve the ice cream in good-quality waffle cones, you won’t even have to worry about having enough bowls. Don’t forget the serviettes!
S’mores are an American institution where you take two crackers and sandwich melting marshmallows and chocolate inside. Aside from sounding deeeeelicious, they are perfect for setting up as a ‘help yourself’ dessert stand at a party. Everyone will love toasting the marshmallows over the barbecue, fire pit, campfire or even the gas stove. It’s lots of fun and s’mores taste amazing. Kevin and Amanda can show you how to set up the ultimate s’mores bar.
10. Say yes to helpers
Your guests will ask to help you with the clean up and you should say yes. It will take a bunch of you about half an hour to clean up the dinner dishes; it will take you hours working alone, especially if you use the dishwasher and have to wait between cycles. Say yes and then allocate each friend a quick job to do and hand them a fresh glass of champagne when they finish it: “Back to the party, thank you for helping!” Make sure you are set up for the helpers:
- Have lots and lots of fresh tea towels ready to go
- Empty the bins so it’s easy to clear up
- Have an assortment of rubber gloves just in case
- Pour some champagne and crank up the music to make a party of it.
The biggest hangover from a party is often the reams of rubbish bags and bottles that simply won’t fit in your bin. Be ready in advance by asking your neighbours if you can fill up their bins if they have any leftover room. They won’t mind and it will save you lots of heartache (and possibly a rodent problem!) over the next couple of weeks.
Once all your guests are fed and happy (and maybe you’ve done the dishes), slip a movie on for the kids to (hopefully) fall asleep in front of and either crank up the music for some dancing or simply settle in for some quiet grown-up conversation that is not allowed to be about the kids (but of course it will be!). Enjoy your summer!
What are your tips for easy entertaining at home?