I love to eat my meals outdoors in the summer months, but I love eating outdoors when family and friends are over even more, especially now that we are living on a lake.
I think my love of eating meals outdoors goes back to my childhood. When we went outside to eat it was called “a Cook-out”. When we heard my mom say…“we are having a cook-out tonight”, my siblings and I got EXCITED!
Nowadays, cooking outside is more commonly referred to as outdoor entertaining. I have such vivid and fond memories of red gingham tablecloths draped across a classic redwood picnic table with family and friends gathered around eating the classic American fare of hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad. Dessert came when we would hear the sound of the ice cream man’s truck. :-)
I have been to many outdoor gatherings in my lifetime, some fancy, most very casual. I enjoyed taking note of the details at each one and how the hostess made it all seem so effortless. I used what I learned over the years so that I, too could make an outdoor party easy to host.
The Secrets to Effortless Outdoor Entertaining
Plan a meal that you are comfortable making.
Making a brand new to you recipe for a party will only stress you out. Choose recipes that you know how to make, and make without even having to think. Make it every time you entertain for the summer season. Use recipes that you don’t even need a recipe for, ones that are your tried and true, that can be made ahead of time and that will always have your guests asking for more.
To make this way of meal planning sound “hip and trendy” call it your “Signature Meal” for the summer entertaining season. Most of the time you will have different people over for different events and occasions so no one will be the wiser that you served the same meal two weeks ago when you had a couple from work over to dine alfresco.
Type up a list for all the ingredients required to make the signature meal so you can grab the list and go to the grocery store at a moments notice knowing that you got it all covered.
Offer something unique and different from your guests day to day dining experience.
This could be as simple as eating by the glow of candlelight to using disposable foil cake tins bought at the dollar store to serve the food on instead of a plate. Maybe change things up by not having all your guests sit down at one large table, but at smaller tables set up around the backyard to eat off of while your guests play simple lawn games like horseshoes or croquet. I find that many are always up for a challenge.
Set up things in advance and have a party basket that makes doing it effortless.
I learned about this magical basket or cabinet from a southern friend of mine who had to “impromptu entertain” frequently because of her husband’s job.
Once I have these 3 items in check, on the afternoon of day of the party, I like to get the table set. This summer, my new house offers lots of places to eat outside. On the deck, out over the water in the gazebo, and at a classic wooden picnic table on the lawn.
Outdoor Tablecloth Idea
There is always a breeze blowing off the lake, so tablecloths can become a nuisance. I found this roll of paper mesh to use as a table runner at Walmart. It was inexpensive, but adds a little style and can be tossed after a few uses.
I used thumb tacks underneath the table to hold it in place…no worries about the wind anymore.
Next I set up the candles. I love to see them all around, not only on the table, but all around the outdoor area to create a festive ambiance for the evening ahead. In past summers, I have used TIKI torches to provide candle lit ambiance, but the torch fuel used in these was petroleum-based and always left a smoky, sooty mess in the air that could at times become overwhelming, especially on a table while eating.
That is no longer the case…
…If you have found this smoky mess prohibits your use of the torches, you will be happy to learn that TIKI Brand has a brand new fuel called Clean Burn™. It is a plant-based formula with dramatically less smoke and no unpleasant petroleum odors since it contains no petroleum-based ingredients. It is dramatically different…no smell, no smoky mess.
Using a few tabletop torches even allowed us to eat outside, bug-free when the midges were out in force for a few days last month. I thought there would be no way, but I lit the new Clean Burn™ Firepieces and my favorite Molded Glass Table Torches that I had from last year about an hour before we were planning to go outside and I was ecstatic to find no bugs that would have chased us back inside :-)
Clean Burn™ Tabletop Firepieces feature a bright flame that provides the perfect light and ambiance that I love to see when dining outdoors. They come with a reusable Roundwick™ burner system that provides up to 3 hours of burn time with every fill.
This new style wick absorbs the fuel which reduces the risk of fuel spillage. The fireplaces come in a variety of colors, textures and sizes to fit your tabletop or outdoor style.
My favorite Molded Glass Table Torches are back this year too. I used these almost every night last summer. You can see more about them in this post. You can find them at Walmart and home improvement stores. They make great summer hostess gifts.
Are you planning to have a cook out or two this summer or do you prefer to call it outdoor entertaining? No matter what you like to call it, when the stress factor is taken away, entertaining is not so scary. Don’t worry about being a style-setter, a caterer, or the perfect host. Instead, it can be about creating a happy occasion that permits you to enjoy family and friends. More important, however, is that you have fun doing it.