I’ve had some requests for easy backyard entertaining tips, I guess because I mention having friends over a lot. It seems like a lot of people don’t host gatherings as often as they would like because of the work that goes into it, or when they do entertain, they feel like they’re too busy to enjoy their guests.
I get that, but I’ve always had a lot of people around, so I got used to keeping things easy and casual. Here are my 5 best tips.
5 Easy Tips for Stress-Free Outdoor Entertaining
#1. Lower your standards.
No, seriously. Let go of that notion of a Pinterest-perfect party. No one cares if you have matching plates and cups or clever decorations, or if your house is cluttered or the floor is dirty.
Party Tip: The floor is going to get dirty anyway! I never clean a floor before a party. I clean afterwards.
They also don’t care if you’re still putting food out when they get there, and they don’t even really care if it’s homemade or store bought. That may be how they want to do their parties, but if your friends are going to judge you for putting out a store-bought dessert or having clutter on your counters, you need to find new friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it when I’m all ready to go when people get there and everything is set out neatly and the house is clean and tidy. Sometimes I achieve that goal, but it isn’t very often, and I’m okay with that.
#2. Buy your food, don’t make it.
I used to be that girl who had to make everything from scratch, and I enjoyed it, but as my job got more demanding, it became too much pressure and I sort of lost interest. When I finally started buying my food instead of making it, entertaining got so much easier. That’s when I realized, most people really don’t care. (Are you sensing a theme here? Haha!)
All that to say, if you love to make homemade food, go for it, but don’t avoid entertaining because it’s too much work or stress to make everything from scratch.
Here are some of the things I often serve that everyone seems to love, and they take very little prep on my part.
Snacks & Apps:
- cheese & meat tray // Ideally, I have three types of cheese (cheddar, brie, and aged gouda are always a safe bet) and one of those Columbus Charcuterie Trios or a Boar’s Head Uncured Genoa Salame Roll.) If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll add some marinated olives, a handful of nuts, and those cute little pickles! I usually put out a bowl of Mary’s Gone Crackers along with it, or I throw some of these Firehook baked crackers right on the cheese plate. When I’m feeling really lazy, I pick up one of these cheese trays at Wegmans. (But I do like to plate it myself.)
- Boursin (green box only) + Glutino pretzel twists // Even people who aren’t gluten-free love the Glutino pretzels, but you can use any small pretzel twist for this.
- Lipton french onion dip & corn chips // Just mix a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix with 16 oz. sour cream. We like this best with Fritos Scoops, or potato chips work too. Raw carrots and celery are also good with it.
- chips & salsa // Trader Joe’s has some of the best jarred salsa options, or I get the “fresh” salsa from the deli area in the grocery store.
- hummus + tortilla chips // Easy peasy!
- potato chips // If I’m just having a couple of girlfriends over, sometimes I just put out a bowl of potato chips and a bottle of wine and call it a day!
- fruit or veggie tray // I just grab one at the grocery store, or of course you can assemble your own.
- La Terra Fina Spinach Artichoke Dip + Pita Chips from Costco // This combo is always a hit, although I try to avoid Costco at all costs, so I send Paul when I want this.
- shrimp cocktail round // I also get this at Costco, or sometimes at my grocery store.
My Go-To Meal:
- burgers & hotdogs // If I serve a meal, burgers and dogs are the easiest, and if you have any vegetarians, you can always buy veggie burgers. We usually buy ground beef and make the burgers, but you can buy the patties already formed at most grocery stores or Costco, and there’s always BUBBA.
- storebought potato salad and/or coleslaw // When we do burgers and/or hotdogs, I usually serve potato salad along with it.
- strawberry spinach salad // This is as “homemade” as I get, or you can buy Marie’s Poppy Seed Dressing at the grocery store. This salad adds freshness and color to the burgers/hotdogs + potato salad meal.
- Pepperidge Farms Cookie variety pack // These look pretty on a platter, and almost everyone likes them. Just beware of any guests with nut allergies.
- frozen cream puffs // You can find these in any grocery freezer section, or of course, at Costco! (I often use this two-tiered serve stand — cookies on top, cream puffs on the bottom; that does NOT go outside, it sits on the island in my kitchen.)
- box brownies // If I’m feeling industrious and have a little extra time, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix is fantastic. I used to make my own, and I still do on occasion, but most people say the Ghirardelli is better. At first I was offended, and then I figured that’s just less work for me!
- Wegmans fruit tarte or cannoli dip & chip tray // If you’re lucky enough to have a Wegmans, they have really good prepared desserts. These are my two favorites.
- Sanders Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels (also at Costco) // I don’t feel the need to always serve dessert. Sometimes I just set out a plate of chocolates.
#3. Skip the meal; serve apps instead.
A lot of times, we don’t serve a meal at all, and that cuts way down on the prep (and cleanup.) It also enables you to spend more time with your guests.
When I go this route, sometimes I make more of an effort to make a homemade appetizer… or not. It just depends on my mood and the amount of time I have.
If you want some suggestions, we all love this guacamole recipe, this buffalo chicken dip recipe, this 7-layer dip, and this jalapeño popper dip. We also like to make these mini cubano sandwich skewers.
If we are hosting around the dinner hour and I feel compelled to offer a meal, sometimes we just order pizza. Of course, that can be costly, but most people are willing to chip in a few bucks to help out.
#4. Make it a potluck.
People almost always offer to bring something when you invite them over, so let them! Again, this does mean letting go of a certain amount of control. And invariably, someone comes in and needs to borrow a cutting board and chef’s knife and proceeds to assemble their entire plate on my freshly cleaned counter… but you know what? That is one dish I didn’t have to make, so I call it a win.
#5. Use disposable everything & keep yourself well-stocked.
It’s nice to serve on real plates with real flatware, but it’s a lot more to clean up, so we almost always use paper. (The exception is for holiday gatherings; I do draw a line there.) But in the summertime, out by the pool, it’s always paper. There are also lots of eco-friendly options nowadays, and I’m trying to do more of that.
I keep disposable cups and napkins and plates in a basket in my pantry, and I try to keep myself stocked so I’m not scrambling if I want to have a last minute gathering. I also keep a utensil caddy in my pantry fully stocked at all times.
Outdoor Entertaining Must-Haves
This section may be redundant, but here’s a “checklist” of sorts — things to have, and consumable items to keep in stock so you don’t have to shop for them each time you have an event.
Party Tip: Amazon’s Subscribe & Save is great for keeping consumables in stock, and it saves you 5%.
- disposable plates, cups & napkins // I try to keep matching or at least coordinating sets, but sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I’m learning to let it go. Target usually has really cute ones in their seasonal section, and I try to remember to stock up at the beginning of summer, but by now it’s whatever I think to grab at the grocery store.
- disposable utensils // I like this silver cutlery combo because it looks nicer than the clear plastic, and they come with twice as many forks as knives and spoons.
- melamine serving dishes // So you don’t have to worry about anything getting broken near the pool, and they’re also lightweight for carrying back and forth from the house. I have and love this chip & dip set.
- melamine serving tray // For transporting dishes and drinks to the deck and back to the kitchen. I have this one.
- canned drinks // Whatever people like to drink; we keep an assortment of soda and beer, and we buy cans rather than glass bottles because of the pool.
- beverage coolers // For bigger events, we like to use two — one for beer and any other alcoholic canned drinks, and one for sodas and other non-alcoholic canned drinks. Paul often prints out pictures of each of the drinks in each cooler and tapes them on top so everyone knows their choices. (Sort of brilliant, but also time consuming.)
- outdoor pitcher // This pitcher has the look of mottled sea glass, but it’s actually made of shatterproof acrylic. I always fill it with ice water and set it outside on my bar cart along with paper cups so it’s easily accessible.
- insulated stemless wine glasses // To keep your wine cold, of course!
- acrylic ice buckets // I usually plop a couple of bottles of wine in this, and keep the canned drinks in coolers, but we sometimes put canned drinks in these for smaller gatherings.
- ingredients for easy apps & dessert // cheeses, sliced salami, Boursin, salsa, hummus, Lipton Onion Soup Mix, sour cream, Fritos, pretzels, tortilla chips, cream puffs, Pepperidge Farms cookies, salted caramels, etc.
- individual chip bags // I often put these out in a big bowl on the bottom shelf of my bar cart. Even when I have open bowls of chips on the coffee table, I notice that a lot of people (especially kids) like to grab one of these.
- citronella candles // They make some really pretty ones nowadays.
- Corn Hole // So much fun. Everyone loves this game.
What would you add to this list?
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