'Tis the season to gather outside with friends and celebrate longer days, warmer weather, and the overall lighthearted feeling that summer brings. And speaking of lighthearted... who doesn't want to host friends in the most stress-free way possible? Of course, everyone wants to be a great host and ensure that their guests have a great time when they stop by for Friday evening cocktails or a weekend potluck, but is there actually a way to make entertaining feel less chaotic and more breezy? The experts say "Yes, indeed!" We spoke with event planners from across the country who weighed in on their top tips for hosting with ease.
Focus on YOUR Faves
This is an absolute must when planning a get together, Chicago-based event planner Christine Janda says. "Do you love a great signature cocktail or is creating a design forward tablescape more your jam? Focus your time and energy on what you love at an event and dial back on everything else," she encourages.
Not much of a chef? Go ahead and order food from a restaurant you absolutely love and allow your fabulous decorating skills to take center stage. For example, Janda suggests, "Ditch the take out boxes for beautiful platters."
Go With the Flow
Janda says that this is key to ensure a successful gathering no matter the weather. "Plan a gathering that can work inside or out," she says. "I love self serve bars and food stations for this reason. Your guests can make a plate and find their seat, even when Mother Nature decides to (literally) rain on your parade!"
Even if you're pretty sure it will be sunny the day of your party, it never hurts to run through some backup solutions in your mind. "It’s always ideal to be outdoors and enjoying the warm weather when gathering with friends or loved ones in the summer months, but it’s helpful to have a plan in place in case of inclement weather," NYC event planner Tracy Taylor Ward comments. "Best case scenario, you won’t have to utilize this plan, but in the event the weather takes a turn for the worse, you’ll be covered (pun intended)! "
Don't Forget About Lighting
This is key when planning events both large and small, Ward notes. "In the summer months when the sun sets later in the day, it’s easy to overlook lighting needs, but nothing kills the mood of an event more than having insufficient lighting as the darkness begins to set in," she says. "Proper lighting will keep your festivities going, even after the sun goes down." Ward is a fan of using lanterns, candles, and string lights when entertaining at home.
There's nothing worse than scrambling the day of a party to figure out just what exactly you're going to serve, after all. "Create your menu based on group size and keep it simple," advises Melissa Fife, an event planner in New York. "Prep salads and marinate meats the day before." And stock up on plates and utensils—yes, the disposable kinds are A-OK, Fife says. "At the end of the event, everything can just be popped in the trash."
Your backyard get together shouldn't be stuffy, after all! Megan Papageorge, a wedding and event planner in Charleston, S.C., offers a few suggestions. "When setting up seating, I like to mix lounge style chairs and rockers with picnic tables or traditional eating spaces," she notes. "This encourages guests to mingle and everyone to not be sitting at the same time."
And don't forget about warding off critters, who are often ready to join any summertime soiree. "Start by prepping your space with a natural bug spray and lighting some chic citronella candles," Papageorge adds.
And comfort food is a must, too! "In my opinion it's not a BBQ without deviled eggs, potato salad, an assortment of dips, and fresh summer fruit," Papageorge notes.
At the same time, ensure that all of your guests feel welcome by accounting for various dietary preferences and allergies. "We always recommend curating a menu with a variety of options to ensure there’s food for everyone at your festivities," Ward says. "You’ll feel good knowing all your guests are well fed and your guests will appreciate the effort you took to accommodate their individual needs.”