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Summer has come to an end, but here in Ohio beautiful fall weather is upon us. This is a fabulous time of year to have an outdoor gathering, and the seemingly unshakable pandemic makes alfresco dining an even more attractive option.
Outdoor entertaining can sometimes be a pain because your supplies and kitchen aren’t as handy, unless you’re one of those lucky souls who has a fully stocked outdoor kitchen. If you’re like me, your outdoor dining area isn’t conveniently located just off the kitchen, but you can still throw a terrific party without stressing. Dinner Table Doctor and I love to entertain, and alfresco dining is always a treat. We have a system and a few handy items so that outdoor dining is stress free:
Preparation is key – As with most things in life, preparation will ease your stress. Days before your dinner, make a list of what needs to be done. If you have friends or family who are helping, assign them specific tasks from your list. Think about what can be accomplished days ahead and what needs to be done hours ahead. Put everything on the list so you don’t get flustered or panicked on the day of your party.
If I don’t communicate exactly what help I need, Dinner Table Doctor will be meticulously polishing cabinets or looking through cookbooks for a new recipe right before the event. In his eyes he’s helping, while I’m thinking “No one will notice the kitchen cabinets, but they might notice the pile of dirty laundry in the middle of the floor!” I have learned that if I feel certain tasks are a priority, I need to say so, and a list is the most obvious way to do this. He can add things to the list too, so we’ll both be satisfied that we can accomplish what needs to be done before our guests arrive. One of the many reasons I love to entertain outside is the fact that DTD truly enjoys gardening and making our yard look beautiful. I usually don’t have to lift a finger when it comes to preparing our backyard for a dinner party.
Pick an easy menu – Although many people imagine grilling is the best way to cook for an outdoor meal, grilling is not our first choice. Someone has to man the grill and grease splatters and it turns into a time-consuming and laborious process. DTD would rather be pouring wine and chatting about fiber, and I would rather be drinking wine and chatting about pretty much anything else. If we are going to grill, we try to finish before the guests even arrive and keep the food warm in the oven. Don’t get me wrong – Maybe you love to grill and maybe you or your spouse prefer to hang out at the grill. Then it’s a great option. The point is, do what is best for you. As long as you’re comfortable, go for it.
Appetizers are crucial as is a variety of drink options, including nonalcoholic selections. If you can get some tasty tidbits and a drink in the hands of guests moments after they arrive, the evening should be a success. An easy and always impressive appetizer is a charcuterie board.
Have plenty of tables, seating, or both – It’s hard to juggle a drink and food while standing. You need to sit and use your lap or you need a table to set your drink on. Make it easy for your guests to comfortably enjoy the menu you prepared. We have several seating areas along with one big dining table in our backyard. Even if you don’t have much patio furniture, as soon as you know the weather is going to be nice, you can bring out tables and chairs from your house, which brings us to the next tip.
Check the Weather! – Sadly, in Ohio outdoor entertaining is pretty iffy no matter what time of year it is. If you don’t have a covered outdoor area, you need to be prepared to move everything inside in case rain (or snow!) comes out of nowhere. It’s also a great idea to use a heater or firepit on a cool evening. Fire creates a lovely, festive atmosphere. You could even have some blankets sitting around for those who feel chilled but may not have adequately prepared for the weather.
Control bugs – Also in Ohio, we are blessed with an abundance of mostly harmless, yet annoying insects. Your guests don’t want to be eaten alive by mosquitos or swapping away bees and gnats. Plan accordingly. Put some bug spray on a table (far away from the food but also clearly visible), light some tiki torches, or have your yard professionally treated. You could also place a few fans around, since mosquitos and gnats have a tough time dealing with a breeze. We learned the importance of pest control the hard way years ago when we unknowingly had a nest of ground bees right by a swing, and a child was stung several times during a gathering. (Sorry Colin!) Since then, we try to comb the area for nests.
Bugs can also get all over the food. If you are laying out a buffet, cover the dishes. Sometimes we’ll put the food and drinks inside to let guests make a plate and then head out.
Clean up your yard – This seems obvious, but DTD and I once attended a party many years ago on a beautiful fall evening. The hosts took the time to make a lively fire in their firepit, but neglected to put away the garden hose. As the night went on, people were tripping over the hose right by the fire. The hosts were oblivious until someone finally mentioned how they almost fell into the fire. Then in the dark everyone had to pick up chairs and side tables so the hosts could relocate their huge hose. Your yard does not have to be perfect – just make sure it’s not hazardous! (You may remember that I’m a firm believer entertaining in general is better when things are NOT perfect.)
Create a welcoming atmosphere – A few simple methods for creating a warm and welcoming outdoor atmosphere include setting out some bright potted plants, flowers, or pillows and blankets. Also music or a small water fountain will help set your mood and drown out neighborhood noises. Strategic lighting is the best way to make outdoor ambiance magical as the sun goes down. Plus your guests want to see what they’re eating and make it to the bathroom without doing a faceplant in your yard. You don’t have to spend a lot on professional lighting. A few string lights and some candles or tiki torches go a long way.
Have a visible trash can outside – When the party is outside, cleanup is a whole lot easier if people can find a trash can throughout the evening.
Here are some useful items to help make outdoor entertaining easy and impressive. Just click on the highlighted text for a link if you’re interested in more information or possibly purchasing:
Autumn is my favorite time of year, and the woods in our backyard are gorgeous as the leaves change. DTD and I love to entertain outside. Hopefully this inspires you to throw your own soiree alfresco style. Feel free to invite us if you think some unwanted medical opinions might liven up the dinner conversation!
We recently hosted an outdoor polenta party which I will highlight in a future post and tell you all you need to know to throw your own. Plus you’ll learn a little something, because DTD was in rare form that night sharing his 2 cents when a guest made an innocent health-related comment. Subscribe so you never miss a post and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.