Selecting the right table fare can make your next backyard party memorable for your guests and stress free for you. Whether you are entertaining five close friends or 50 guests, follow these simple principles to make the most intelligent food and beverage choices
Select a menu that fits the atmosphere of your outdoor party. For smaller, less formal gatherings keep it simple – snack-sized finger foods such as chips and dip or salsa, nut mixes, fruit kabobs, sliced and dipped fruit, cheese and crackers or cold cuts and cheese work very well. This is particularly important if people may be standing when they eat.
When possible, select dishes that can be served at room temperature – dips, fruits, veggies and Insalata Caprese all fit the bill – recipes that don’t require an oven or stove will simplify party preparation and keep the kitchen cool on warm summer evenings. In addition, serve foods that can be prepared in advance and then only need the finishing touches just before meal time. If you are planning a full menu for your guests select a single main entre and a few complimentary sides. For example, barbecue is a traditional choice for backyard get-togethers – you can bake the meats well ahead of time and then simply put them on the grill just before meal time to heat through and glaze with your favorite BBQ sauce. Add some veggies, a salad and in-season fruit and you have a meal. Another great option is kabobs- make them ahead of time and grill them just before serving. Finally, avoid steamed vegetables, they tend to get cold or soggy rather quickly, opt for grilled where you can keep them warm right up.
Limit cold dishes to no more than one or two. Put them in glass bowls and nest them in a larger bowl full of ice. For hot dishes, keep them covered to maintain their temperature. Consider a steam table or heated buffet service – they’re convenient and will be used more than you think. Otherwise, heat a baking stone or ordinary bricks in the oven, wrap them in a towel and place them on the table, then put the serving dish directly on top, this will double the time the food will stay appetizingly warm.
Know your guest list, but expect about one and a half to two servings per guest and a little reserve for a few unannounced visitors. If you are unsure, prepare extra then have some crafty doggie bags ready for your guests to take home any leftovers.
Have both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options available for your guests. For alcoholic drinks have a simple selection of red and white wines, a domestic and imported beer, and a marquee cocktail such as a martini, Mojitos or Bloody Mary. You can also add an exotic “signature” drink to give your guests a new experience and something to remember – but select something you can prepare ahead and by the pitcher to keep you from bartending when you should be socializing. Cater to your guest list.
For non-alcoholic choices you can never have enough water, particularly on hot summer days. Offer bottled water or keep a couple of colorful pitchers filled and ready to go. Also have a couple of types of sodas, including cola and clear soda in some colors, and Diet Sodas. If you will have kids attending, have a bowl of cherries for a Shirley Temple or cherry cola available. Finally, keep juice boxes chilled and on standby for parents who don’t have soda water ready.
Depending on the temperature and length of the party, you should budget for three drinks per guest, or about one and a half per hour. Keep drinks on ice in beverage tubs stationed around the party area rather than unsightly Styrofoam or plastic coolers. Keep a towel and bottle opener nearby so guests can easily serve themselves.
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you and your guests eat, drink and be merry at your next backyard bash.