A little effort will dazzle outdoor party guests

05/17/2014 2:57 PM

08/06/2014 11:27 AM

The late Betty Minkler was a wonderful cook and hostess. When she was asked for some of her secrets to successful entertaining, the community-minded Wichitan said, “Your table may be pretty, or clever, elegant or casual, but it has to be inviting. And if you have a great-looking table, your food, well, it doesn’t have to be as whippy.”

With summer comes opportunities for fun, casual, outdoor entertaining, but that doesn’t mean it’s pull out the paper plates and forget about setting the table.

Why not take a little time, make a little effort and dazzle guests with table decor that will add to the fun?

You don’t have to go in search of a lot of items, start by looking around your house. A colorful mix of flowers in a Mason jar makes a great centerpiece. No Mason jar? Use that big ice tea glass.

Use your imagination and you’ll find setting the mood for a party is just as much fun, or more, as putting the menu together and preparing the food.

Here are 20 ideas and tips to make outdoor entertaining a pleasant experience for not only the guests but the hosts as well:

1. You’ve heard it 100 times, but remember to prepare absolutely everything you can the day before your party.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring something. Have a few things in mind you can suggest if they offer.

3. Even if you follow a theme loosely, it helps to have one, not only with decor, but with the menu.

4. If you’re stumped, think of three colors. Now look around your home for items of those three colors. If an item holds water, whether it’s a tea pot or a bowl, it will hold flowers. Don’t forget to look in cupboards you haven’t opened in a while.

5. For a quick, colorful centerpiece, put lemons, oranges and limes in a bowl, add a few green leaves (even magnolia leaves will do) and you’ve got it.

6. Have the kids take part by having them help you put together time consuming, but yummy hors d’oeuvres. Simple assembly such as sticking a cherry tomato, a basil leaf and a little mozzarella cheese ball on a toothpick is fun … at least for a while.

7. Get sheets of poster board, cut into large rounds, squares or rectangles, then let the kids decorate them. Use as placemats.

8. This is a great time of year to buy a pot of perennials and put them in a basket on the table as a centerpiece. After the party, add them to your garden. Make sure the scent is pleasant before putting in on the table.

9. If you’re having a party for a child, the more color the better and if you’re going to do a craft, supply each child with an apron they can take home with them.

10. It’s more fun to say “good-bye” at the end of the party if each guest has something to take home with them. It doesn’t have to be big, just a party favor to extend the fun experience.

11. Don’t forget to have a choice of beverages for those guests who do not drink alcohol.

12. Insects are uninvited, unwanted guests. Make sure you spray or have a bug zapper or other deterrent during summer months.

13. You don’t want heat, wind, bugs, etc. around the food. If serving a buffet, set it up indoors, with tables set for dining outdoors.

14. It stays light later in the summer, but if guests decide to linger, make sure you’ve got candles, lanterns or lights.

15. If guests are going to serve themselves beverages, make sure they have access to plenty of glasses, ice, a wine opener, pop opener, ice scoop etc. so they don’t have to search for what they need.

16. Tie a towel to the handle of a tub holding ice, pop, beer, etc. so guests can wipe off the can or bottle and their hands if necessary.

17. Have more glasses than guests on hand because guests will set their drink down, lose track of it, then get another which means another glass. Also if someone switches beverages, they’ll want a new glass. To be safe, double the number of guests for the number of glasses you’ll need.

18. Since the kitchen always seems to be a gathering place, why not make your kitchen table or island pretty and use it for the buffet. That will free up seating in the dining room for those who prefer to stay indoors.

19. The kids’ table should be special too. If they think you’ve gone to extra effort, they just might behave and use their best table manners.

20. Remember the hostess should have fun, too. Don’t make things complicated. If you’re having fun, your guests will have fun.

Reach Bonnie Bing at bingbylines@gmail.com

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