10 Summer Dinner Party Ideas
These dinner party ideas, such as gathering peonies from the yard for a simple tablescape, will help you get in the mood for easy summer entertaining!
Last week we hosted a couples dinner party. We ate al fresco, and on this gorgeous southern Oregon evening, with the warm air and fresh early scent of summer in the air, we celebrated our friend, Judy’s, 50th birthday.
Most of my readers know my style of entertaining is to choose part of the menu that works for me (usually the host always makes the entree, but there’s no biblical rule about this), and then fill in the other slots with what the guests will bring. I love delegation! I feel I can entertain more when I don’t have to do it all – both in cooking and in the cost.
1. Make it classy and casual.
I chose a classy theme with peonies from the yard, but I kept the table very simple for this party with no chargers or tablecloth. It was summery, fresh, and I loved the color combination of purples and Le Creuset Caribbean blue!
TIP: Use cloth napkins already ironed and look for flowers in the yard that will match. Mix and math color combinations that might be a bit different. It’s okay!
2. Invite the number of guests that fit the space.
We invited 4 couples, making an even number of 10 around the table. That’s the max my table can hold outside, without adding an extra extra what? (which I don’t mind doing for larger parties). Knowing my limit is good, because it’s easy to think of “this person” and “that person” I’d also want to invite.
TIP: Don’t wander from your guest list.
3. Keep the party manageable.
You don’t need to ask too many people to come, but on the other hand, think of all the work you’re putting into the dinner, capitalize on your guest list, and invite a manageable number that works for you. Normally between 6-10 is my “perfect” size dinner party.
TIP: Letting your guests know where to sit removes any ackwardness of wondering who to sit by.
4. Never expect perfect.
The hard way to host a party is to throw everything together at the last minute. If you do this, you’ll never want to entertain again. That, and trying to make sure everything is perfect. Perfectionism is a robber that insures things will never be good enough, or you’ll always be worrying. Flow with an “I like it” approach to entertaining and you’ll be a much happier hostess.
TIP: Cut flowers from the yard and place in a galvanized bucket for a quick and easy flower arrangement. Messy is good – it doesn’t have to look perfect!
5. Plan ahead and organize.
Write out the menu and, a few days ahead, start preparing and cleaning and getting ready. Check off a few chores every day, so the day of the party you’ll have plenty of time to do last minute jobs and prepare. And … enjoy the day! Thinking ahead to the guests who will be joining you should add excitement and anticipation. It’s okay to have some expectations – expectations that everyone, including yourself, will have a great time.
TIP: A positive attitude when entertaining is more important than the clothes you’re wearing, or if the food is perfect. It goes a long way!
6. Simplicity is the key.
Make dishes that you’re familiar with, or have tried at least once. Keep it simple, fresh, and remember, the brighter color the food, the healthier! On this evening, I made a Chimichurri Sauce that was to die for! Bright and green, to serve with the Beef Tenderloin. We also served salads, fresh bread, delicious appetizers, and I’ll save the dessert for later. Since it was a 50th birthday, we made our guest’s favorite dessert.
I promise, these delicious recipes are coming soon to RE! (Here’s the Green Salad with Watermelon, Strawberries, and Cashews recipe.)
TIP: Mix melons and berries together in a green salad. YUM!
7. Present it pretty.
With any meal, think about how you’ll serve it. The importance of presentation gives a visual appeal and makes your guests excited for what’s to come. Ahead of time I think about serving platters, bowls, utensils, and set everything out. If guests bring a salad, I make sure and have a bowl that goes with the “theme” ready, but most likely their bowl will be just fine. I don’t ask questions, and if I want to serve their salad in a different bowl, I just do it. Don’t make a big deal of it. White plates are my favorite, although lately I’ve also been using some colored serving platters from Le Creuset.
TIP: Serve fresh herbs on the platter with cooked meat.
8. Know your serving style.
Whether serving your guests at a sit-down dinner, or having guests plate their own food, figure out what works for you. For this particular meal we set it all out! Easy, less stress, and a much more relaxed approach. (Very top photo, we removed the plates and stacked them at the buffet entertaining area inside the house, right before the meal was served.)
TIP: If your guests jump up to help clear the table, be gracious and thank them for the help, but get them back to the dinner party. Sometims the best part of the party is after conversation that follows the food.
9. Ambience and lighting.
You’ve tackled the table and the menu details, but don’t forget the lighting. Enjoying an al fresco meal, we didn’t have to worry much about the lighting. That’s what I love about outdoor entertaining. You start off with daylight, then move into dusk with party lights glowing, and into the evening with candles and the warm ambience of the moon and star and a bright sky. Don’t forget the music, another important element to any kind of entertaining or dinner party! What’s your favorite play list? Put it on!
TIP: Pandora is easy to put on your favorite station. Or, some of the music we enjoyed this night, I’ll be sharing Paul’s favorite playlist – soon!
10. Focus on the guests.
Being a birthday dinner, it was easy to focus on the “star” of the party. But don’t forget to visit with each person at your party. Get to know them. Put yourself aside and make them the most important person, for those few minutes. Entertaining and hospitality should not be all about fanciness and impressing, but about sharing food and community with others. One of my favorite things is connecting people together, and letting their friendships take off. I don’t want to hoard my friends–I want to share them with others.
Blessing and loving people is what happened in our backyard last week.
The here and now, the beauty of today, is what we need to lean into and be grateful for.
What’s your favorite touch to add to a summer entertaining dinner party?