Outdoor Summer Entertaining

Individual charcuterie boards are fun for small outdoor parties


Tips to Host Your Guests 2021 Style

The global pandemic brought an entirely new appreciation for the simple things in life. Time spent outdoors. Good food. Friendships. And the ability to host loved ones in our homes and back yards. Because of the massive realignment of what is "normal," entertaining guests in our homes has evolved into a new way of thinking and a more careful, conscious effort to be safer in the ways we interact, as well as how we serve and consume food and beverages.

For me, personally, gone are the days of a large gathering in favor of a smaller, more intimate event. Potluck food is still possible, but perhaps in a different presentation geared towards individual portions and a "hands free" attitude. I admit, even though we socially distanced for meals outdoors and in garages during 2020, it took time to readjust to entertaining. Despite extensive experience, I had forgotten how to be a live host versus a virtual host. Below, I've compiled an overview of tips for Summer outdoor entertaining, "2021 style." 

Restyled Summer Entertaining

Glass carafes and recyclable aluminum cups are more eco-friendly than individual plastic water bottles

When the Covid-19 pandemic completely turned life as we knew it inside out, reinvention was the key to keeping our sanity. Virtual events became accepted as a reality and live events emerged in new formats. As an example, we met up with our neighbors for evening "fence parties." Each couple sat in the very back of our own yards with snacks, beverages and lawn chairs pulled up to talk across the 20' expanse of grass that was separated by our own fences. It gave me a beautiful new perspective of my yard from a different angle and an entirely new appreciation for being able to socialize at a distance.

Now the summer of 2021 is restyled into a new normal of entertaining in person again. For me, it's about going back to the basics of summer entertaining. We've hosted 20 or 30 guests for parties and cookouts in the past and no longer feel the need to be as elaborate. Now, I prefer to host a limited number of guests; serve good, flavorful food; add a splash of color with accessories; sit on comfortable chairs with ambient lighting surrounded by a beautiful garden or night sky backdrop. Less is more.

Years ago we hired an in-home private chef to prepare my husband's milestone birthday lunch for quite a few guests. It was a wonderful, memorable experience that taught me many things, including this: a private chef is not less work for the hostess, it actually adds to the work to oversee each step to ensure your event goes smoothly. Anyway, one great idea from that party was the concept of serving individualized portions. In hindsight, it foreshadowed the future and it also provides an opportunity for the hosts to determine how many portions they need to prepare and serve.

Individual Servings in Lieu of Big Bowls

Think in terms of eliminating big bowls of chips in favor of individually wrapped chips and snacks instead. I used to think individual servings are rather wasteful. What if your guests don't want a specific amount of anything? Will they consume less or more than offered? However, it is the new reality of the pandemic world and if it reduces the chances your guests will be ill, it's worth it. Individual servings are good for:

Beverages: Bottles, cans, cups

Finger Food: small bite appetizers that can be picked up with a toothpick or arranged in single servings

Salads / Crudite / Chips / Sides: Serve in very small bowls, personal platters, short plastic cups or mason jars

Skewers: Serve meat, seafood, fruit, shrimp cocktail and/or vegetables on a small skewer or stick

Ramekins: Individual ramekins are great for baked casseroles or other hot food

Desserts: Cupcakes, ice cream bars, parfait cups, pies and more

Commercially Wrapped Packages: Chips, sandwiches, crackers, nuts, snacks, desserts, etc.

Condiments: Packets of ketchup, mustard, taco sauce and mayo


If your guests can't finish everything, offer to pack it to go home with them if they prefer.

Eco-Conscious Entertaining

My parents were way ahead of their time with reuse and recycling, even in the 1970's when you had to drive somewhere to drop off your newspapers, glass, plastic containers and cans. They grew up that way because of their depression-era parents and taught me the mindset way before the city provided each home with recycling containers that we wheel to the street every other week. In 2021, the level of eco-conscious has certainly evolved into another stratosphere.

--Skip the plastic. Use glass, ceramic, metal or washable flatware, carafes and dishes

--Omit paper products: use fabric napkins and/or personal washable/bleachable kitchen towels as a napkin

--Eliminate one-use products (such as disposable "red plastic" cups) unless they can be recycled. Substitute recyclable aluminum cups instead.

--Instead of plastic water bottles, serve carafes of iced tea, filtered water and cold beverages

--Place a pretty cloth or reusable plastic tablecloth or table runner as your anchor for a beautiful table. Flowers from the garden in jars or potted flowers will add a touch of charm.

--Don't forget to put bottles of hand sanitizer in key areas of your home, including the kitchen, bath and food area

--Tiki torches and/or overhead cafe-style string lighting add memorable charm as well as practical function to reduce trips and falls

Pot-lucks in 2021

Potlucks, buffets and large bowls of food such as chips/dip and so forth are a risk, so try to do everything to reduce the chances of spreading anything from guest to guest. Foods prepared in a home kitchen vs. commercial kitchen carry a higher chance of food-borne issues.

If you've never hosted or attended a themed pot-luck, this is a good time to give it a try: Baked potato bars, pulled pork/smoked meats, tacos/Mexican, Italian, Greek, Asian-fusion, deli salads or even chicken sandwiches can all be purchased from commercially prepared establishments. Suggest to guests in advance that they RSVP and bring $5 to $10 per person (depending on your budget) to cover the costs of the meal and have one or two families coordinate ordering and delivering the food.

If you prefer an old-fashioned potluck, keep plenty of hand sanitizer near the food and encourage guests to bring individual portions, as suggested above. If your potluck involves brats, hotdogs, pork, burgers, meat or poultry cooked on-site over a grill, have the grill master dispense the meat onto each person's plate.

Beat the Heat

During 2020, we spent every very small social gathering with family outdoors and distanced from each other. This meant dining al fresco during some very hot days of summer on the deck, but that was better than the alternative of staying home. Here's suggestions to beat the heat:

--Stay in the shade wherever possible under umbrellas, trees, awnings and so forth

--Bring portable electric fans and extension cords so each person has air blowing directly on them or provide paper fans

--Stay hydrated: consume cold beverages

--Use cold compresses on your neck and ice-pack hats for your head if available

--Serve ice cream, slushies, frozen treats and desserts and so forth

--Don't overdo it! Limit your time in the heat and don't let your pet/s be in the heat too long either



"Throwing an unforgettable party doesn't require a ton of time or money, it just requires a little thought, creativity and heart.

-- Maury Ankrum, Event Planner, Author

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