Entertaining Essentials – Outdoor Party Tips
An outdoor bash is a great way to celebrate the wonderful warmth of summer. If you’re dreaming of summer fun with friends and family, here are a few tips to help make your party a success.
Pick food with flair. Event planner Monique Nangle-Johnson, owner of Monx Design House in North Andover, says the fusion trend — food that blends the culinary styles of two or more regions — is still big, and she’s seeing a lean toward Asian flavors. “People aren’t afraid to just say they’re going to do takeout, either. Entertaining is becoming a little more relaxed, which I think is good,” she says.
Create a signature cocktail. Infused spirits are still popular, Nangle-Johnson says. And Tara Cucchiara, event coordinator for Two Chefs Are Better Than One Catering in Lowell, says she’s still seeing a strong interest in flavored mojitos.
Mix manners. Cucchiara has noticed an increased interest in plated, sit-down meals. “People want their guests to be waited on,” she says. Yet venues for these events continue to trend toward the casual — think farms, barns, backyards. “It’s a formal meal in a rustic setting,” Cucchiara says. “People can be relaxed while feeling dressed up and elegant at the same time.”
Don’t overdo it. The rustic look may be big, but that doesn’t mean you want people to feel they’re coming to a square dance (unless, of course, they are). Nangle-Johnson’s rule of thumb? Moderation. “Pick one or two areas to incorporate,” she says. Mason jars are particularly big right now — use them to serve drinks, or as table settings with flowers or candles. The chalkboard trend is also going strong, with hand-lettered signs to greet guests or describe food and beverages. “Chalkboard paint and pens come in a variety of colors now, so you can personalize it,” Nangle-Johnson says.
Whatever rustic touch you choose, keep it neat. If you’re using burlap as a table runner or to wrap around a votive, for example, make sure it has a finished edge, or at a minimum is cleanly cut. If you’re writing your own signs, keep the penmanship legible, with a few simple embellishments. That attention to detail is the difference between relaxed and sloppy, Nangle-Johnson says.
Create opportunities for guests to connect, both with you and each other. Instead of seating people at numbered tables at a wedding, for example, name the tables after destinations the just-married couple has visited, Cucchiara says. Or use photos from previous parties as decorations and icebreakers.
Nangle-Johnson, who often works with nonprofits, recycled one organization’s old paper programs to create a photo background. “Guests could see how the organization had changed over the past five years, and could see how far they’d come, and remember why they were here,” she says. “People could do the same thing with old family photos. The idea is to create a way to interact and engage.”
Cucchiara agrees. “Instead of sending guests home with party favors, people are trying to offer something more interactive, giving them an experience instead of just a trinket.”
Create individual packets for s’mores for dessert, for example, or hire a food truck to come with ice cream sandwiches. Serve individual slices of pie in mason jars, make cake “shooters” so guests can sample more than one flavor, or set up a self-serve sundae bar.
“The idea is to create a memory that makes the guests part of the fun,” Cucchiara says.
Photography by (Once Like a Spark) Photography