There’s nothing like the magic of a casual summer dinner party where all seems right with the world- the table looks fab, everyone feels relaxed, and the menu hits the right note for fun, no-fuss, deeply delicious entertaining.
DON’T THINK MENU- THINK SEASON
Forget the latest recipes, or driving yourself crazy with a pre-determined colour palette or menu, work with what’s in season, now. There are three directions with the seasoning: either French where it’s about rosemary and thyme, Italian where it’s all about garlic and lemon, or opt for a more Middle Eastern vibe with tahini and parsley. As for the main course, ‘tis the season for casual grills.
SET A SIMPLER TABLE
Try a pared-down approach to table settings that is chic yet puts everyone at ease. Don’t plant a forest of glasses by each setting: one water and one glass per person is enough. Plus one bistro napkin. Keep the cutlery simple: a knife, fork and spoon. When you serve dessert, you can bring the dessert spoons or forks in a silver cache pot. Make sure guests have everything they need in an arm’s reach—including water and wine. Guests can feel uncomfortable asking for something they’re missing.
BRING OUT THE HERBS
Flowers are lovely, but for casual evenings try using the herbs and vegetables used to cook. We buy loads to have on hand, and use them for centerpieces, cooking, even drinks. Basil, mint and rosemary look (and smell) beautiful on a summer table.
SMILE AND RELAX
The first rule of entertaining? Relax, relax, relax. Yes, love your guests. When you invite pals to your house for dinner, it’s because you like them or want to know them better, and they come because they want to. A dinner party is a pact to have a good time together – that means all of you, including the host and hostess. Nothing destroys the smell of effortless panache faster than burning martyr. Fancy food is far lessimportant than atmosphere. As long as the atmosphere is right, all you need is enough food to go around, served simply. With smiling, relaxed hosts, people will have more fun tucking into something simple, than a feast dished up by largely absent hosts. If you love your guests, the rest will follow.
LET GUESTS MAKE THEIR OWN DRINKS
The first few minutes of a social event set the tone for the rest of the evening. The DIY drinks bar saves the hosts from the messy multitasking of trying to make drinks, greet other guests —and allows your pals to feel at home from the start.
ASK FOR HELP
Not only can a few extra hands help with those last-minute finishing touches, but most guests love to make a small contribution towards pulling the meal together. Once guests have a drink in hand, you might ask them to take on a small task – dress the salad, light the candles, help carve the meat.
LIMIT YOUR TIME IN THE KITCHEN
Don’t leave your guests on their own, making polite chitchat while you vanish to cook. Pre-prepare as much food as possible (which should be simple, generous, easy to serve and easy to eat). And there’s nothing wrong with cheating – buying salads to summer puds from a good little man down the road – the French have been doing it for decades. That will leave you plenty of time to relax and spend with your guests. Don’t wash up during dinner: what you think takes a few seconds, actually results in your guests being left alone and unloved for ten long minutes.