I love entertaining. I love having people over. But, despite what you might think from having seen some of my children's parties, I do not like the last-minute prep work usually required. Particularly the cooking. That's why I subscribe to the "semi-homemade" brand of throwing parties. I love to make it look like I've done a lot of hard work--without really doing much at all. Fake it 'till you make it, baby.
Recently, I wanted to throw a little girls' night in for a few friends, and I knew that the new outdoor space I created with Pier 1 Imports (and my new outdoor entertaining stuff!) would work perfectly for this. But, again, I didn't want to do a ton of work--I just wanted it to look like I did!
So, here's my advice for throwing a great outdoor party, the low-maintenance way:
1) Stick to a color theme. This is my rule for pretty much every party I throw and it really elevates the whole bash. It makes everything look so much more cohesive and upscale. (Even plastic cups or paper plates--both of which I very often use--look fancier if you stick to the color theme!) Here, I mixed two different collections of Pier 1 dinnerware, plus assorted linens, but all in shades of blue. The solid-colored plates and bowl are from the Carmelo line, and the blue and white patterned pieces are from the Trellis collection. I also threw in this wooden cake stand (which BTW, I have become totally obsessed with--it looks so much more expensive than it really is). I used it here as a cheese server, because it tied in with the rustic thing--using wood outside always seems to work.
2) Dress up your outdoor furniture. My table is low, and a bit of an odd size, so it would have been hard to find a tablecloth. (Plus, a tablecloth for a casual night outdoors seemed a little much.) But the weathered wood tabletop wasn't the most appetizing thing either. I kind of loved my solution: I placed four of these durable woven placemats side by side on the table so that they looked like one big square. It added an easy-to-clean surface and looked so much better. I then layered it with an unfolded fringed cloth napkin to serve as a sort of second tablecloth and make the whole tablescape feel a lot warmer. And of course, all the accessories--like the pillows and lanterns I added a few weeks back (read all about it here!)--made a major difference in making the space feel pulled-together and party-ready.
3) Serve one drink and have it easily accessible. All of my friends love wine, so that's all I needed here. I chilled a couple of bottles in my new beverage tub server, which I'm loving. Since my outdoor space is a flight of stairs--and a hike through the length of our house--away from our kitchen, it would have been annoying to traipse back inside every time someone needed a refill. This keeps the drinks close at hand--but still nice and cold. It also gives you a quick and easy place to stash any additional bottles that guests might bring over.
4) Use unbreakable dinnerware and glassware. I'm usually barefoot on our terrace, so the last thing I need to be worried about is stepping on broken glass. That's why, even though all of the dishes here look like fancy ceramic pieces, they're all melamine, which is pretty much impossible to break. Also, remember that, if you are entertaining outside, you need to carry everything outside, and melamine platters are way lighter than the real thing. When I was carrying everything you see here up a flight of stairs to set up for the night, I was very, very happy about that.
5) Serve easy food. I am always stressed-out in the last hour or so before a party. I'm worrying about every last little detail, doing last-minute clean up/de-cluttering of my home, and of course, getting dressed, putting on my makeup, etc. More power to the people who also want to be spending that time standing over the stove or reaching into an oven, but that is just not me. So, hence this menu, which is almost embarrassingly easy--but also zero stress and a no-fail crowd-pleaser. Here's what I served:
• Cheese plate: Simple and who doesn't love cheese? Just buy a few different varieties, unwrap them, and that's it. Lazy girl's best friend. And if you think your cheese plate looks a little blah (like I did at first!) just throw on some dried fruit that you probably already have in your pantry.
• Marinated olives: These are a mix from the olive bar in our local grocery store. Just open the plastic container and dump it into a bowl. Done.
• Marcona almonds: These are a total party staple for me. Beyond easy (again, open the package, pour into a bowl or onto a plate), and everyone loves them. Plus there's something about them that just feels a little more special than regular everyday nuts.
• Spicy Caprese salad: OMG. This one is a total fakeout. Doesn't it look like I slaved and slaved over an Italian grandma's recipe? Nope. I bought three containers of those mini balls of fresh mozzarella--two plain and one marinated. (You could do all marinated, but I personally find the marinated to be a little too spicy, so I like to add some plain into the mix to tone it down.) Then I poured it into a giant bowl, and added a carton of cherry tomatoes sliced in half and some fresh basil that I just ripped up and threw in.
• Olive and goat cheese crostini: This used to be one of my random go-to snacks, and then I realized it would be a really great party hors d'oeuvre. You just buy some pre-made crostini (they have them in bags in the grocery store cheese section), spread on some goat cheese, and then finish with a dollop of kalamata olive spread (also usually found in little tubs in the cheese section). They are soo good!
So what do you think? Do you have any outdoor entertaining planned for this summer? And if so, are you going to take the low-maintenance approach to party-throwing like me? (And speaking of which, if you have any lazy entertaining tips, I would love, love, love to hear them!)
Find what speaks to you. See our Outdoor Living Collection in stores or at pier1.com/outdoorliving.
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