Summer dining should be informal, friendly and relaxed – and where possible, done outdoors. While hosting a party is a fun experience, planning in advance means the night will be less stressful and an enjoyable evening for both you and your guests.
Keep it simple
A great menu doesn’t need to be finicky. Keep it straightforward, focusing on fresh, high-quality ingredients and tried-and-tested recipes. Also, make sure you do as much of the preparation as possible before your guests arrive. "In summer, you can't go passed a grill," says chef Bill Granger, whose favourite summer meal is refreshingly simple: "A good gourmet sausage in great artisan bread and a glass of champagne."
Granger advises you include an icy cold cocktail. "Lately, I've been making spritzers with a dash of elderflower or aperol and white wine topped with sparkling water." Always make sure there's plenty of cold water available on the table (mixed with fresh lemon, lime and mint leaves), along with ample supply of beer and wine. There's nothing worse than going to a dinner party only for the alcohol to run out before the main course.
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Entertaining is fun so get creative! "Don't be scared of serving food to be eaten in your hands, it's really fun, casual and saves on washing up," says Granger. Likewise, James Gordon, who has over 20 years experience in wedding planning, event production and design and special event planning, says he often gets his guests to assemble their own miniature hamburgers at the table. "I have bowls and platters of everything from fried quail eggs, shredded lettuce and crisp pancetta strips and serve them with pomme frite and salad. It's an amusing and delicious way to entertain."
For dessert, keep it light. Berries always make for the perfect finish. Gordon indulges his guests with, "parfaits of vodka and honey soaked berries with vanilla ice-cream and a pavlova twist on top." A vibrant fruit platter filled with ripe mango, pomegranate, berries, peaches and melons served with brandy-infused mascarpone is another quick and delicious dessert.
Mix it up
A maximum of eight to twelve guests is the ideal number – anything bigger than that just gets difficult. "If I have more than eight guests coming, I like to seat them at two tables. It’s fun, conversational and intimate ... then we all swap tables for a delicious pudding," says Gordon. For smaller groups, ask everyone to swap seats after each course to encourage mingling.
Pay attention to detail
Flowers are essential. For accessories designer Rachael Ruddick, the best flowers are preferably handpicked out of the garden, or her favourites, which are usually available in early–Mid December are parrot peonies in coral. "The colour of these flowers typifies summer and bunches of parrot peonies transform a low-key table setting in an instant," she says. Stunning white tiki lanterns are another fun idea and look sensational hanging from the trees.
The table setting
If your table has seen better days, throw a white linen cloth over it – it’ll instantly look chic. Candles will also magically transform a table setting. "I put a candle in glass, a paper fan and a name tag at each place setting to make my guests feel special," says Gordon. "I have a white lacquer table, so I don’t really cloth it often, but a length of crushed Belgian linen always looks good."
Music will make or break a mood – so stock up on soundtracks such as Cafe del Mar for easy listening. Also look at the iTunes Essentials section of Apple’s music store where mixes are based on genre, mood and occasion and include collections such as "Chilled dinner party moods," or "Classical dinner party."
Beware of mozzies
They're the source of sleepless nights and if not taken care off, mosquitoes can really spoil a dinner party. Buy several citronella candles and coils and also keep some insect repellent on hand for guests to spray over their arms and legs.
Be sure to check dietary requirements and plan accordingly. More often than not, you’ll find at least one person is gluten-free or vegetarian.
If you're inviting children, make sure there are plenty of games on offer to keep them occupied. Also, plan a quick kiddy menu and set up a smaller table or even a picnic rug with pencils and paper to draw on.