The days of throwing a few sausages on the grill are over. Summer parties are big business and no-one knows that better than events expert, Philip Allan. He passes on his tips for success when it comes to entertaining outside.
It can be safely assumed that at least once in our lives we have been to the barbeque where either the chair to guest ratio simply did not add up or if indeed it did, it may well be safer to sit on the floor! One of the most common problems with barbeques is often one of the most simple to solve – inadequate seating. Nobody really enjoys standing while they eat; yet disappearing through the seat of a fabric chair you’ve had in the shed since 1999 is even less appealing. There is such a wealth of affordable, stylish garden furniture available that we should be prepared to seat our guests. It makes such a difference having somewhere nice to sit back and relax that guests will take notice.
Shade is another issue. A major feature of barbequing is that it’s spent outside, enjoying the weather. Nevertheless, for those who are not sun worshipers the prospect of spending five hours in direct sunlight is a little daunting. Invest in a good quality, freestanding umbrellas to reserve a shady space. If you have more room, purchasing or putting up a marquee is also a wise idea. However, if you are really looking to push the boat out, look into a sun awning that can be attached to the house.
On the menu
At some point in time, someone somewhere decided that as soon as there is a glimmer of sun, we should race to our local supermarket and buy as much red meat as we can carry. Then, with our veritable abattoir in the boot, we return home where it is undoubtedly taken straight from the pack and cooked until everything looks the same (often like sections of different shaped coals). Delicious.
BBQ food should be an opportunity for your culinary skills to shine in front of your guests. There are some incredibly simple, yet tasty recipes that can be made to bring life to a summer time spread. For example, simply interchanging a standard beef steak with that of tuna or bream makes for lighter, but just as meaty change. Be adventurous with different shellfish. Razor clams or mussels cooked in foil parcels with chilli, coriander and a little water make a fantastic starter. Likewise, grilled asparagus and haloumi skewers can be added to a simple salad to bring a new dimension of flavour to the dish.
If seafood options are not for you, and you want to keep things a little simpler head to the local butcher (or a good deli counter) a day or two early. Give yourself time to take your selection home to work out how to bring them to life. There are hundreds of recipes for simple marinates or rubs that can be applied a few days before to really flavour the meat.
Take some time the weekend before to practice a few simple cocktails then present your guests with the choice on arrival. It’s a lot more enticing than saying ‘I’ve got wine or a beer’
It may seem like a simple thing, but there is a surprising amount of new and alternative drinks to serve when hosting a summer party. Though a selection of wine and larger is probably still on the cards, why not take the time to prepare a delicious summer punch or look at serving seasonal cocktails? Don’t be frightened to play barman for the day, it’s surprisingly fun. Take some time the weekend before to practice a few simple cocktails then present your guests with the choice on arrival. It’s a lot more enticing than saying ‘I’ve got wine or a beer’. There are so few occasions where we are able to prepare punches, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, so have a look on the internet or even invest in a book for ideas on what to create. My personal recommendations are a Blackberry Mojito Punch with a dash of Champagne, a fresh mint Margarita or the long standing favourite sparkling pomegranate punch made with Champagne, dessert wine and fabulous fresh fruit. For non-drinkers a great choice is a cucumber and lemonade chillier made with fresh rosemary, cucumbers, lemon juice and soda water – a suitably adult soft drink. Another crowd-pleaser that’s equally as fun is alcoholic jellies – try refrigerating yours with champagne and strawberries in lovely little pots. Delightful and something you can prepare the day before.
A gorgeous garden
Not all of us have large areas of entertaining space in our gardens, however, make sure that whatever space you do have looks its very best. This is something of a grey area in outdoor entertaining, as garden maintenance can become a full-time job. However, sitting in a garden with only a patio, bare fencing and a neat lawn, has limited charm. If that’s all you have to work with, let’s hope you’re a good conversationalist. Taking a visit to a garden centre and picking up some seasonal flower pots, lanterns, garden candles or hanging baskets will transform smaller spaces with mini pockets of colour and provide a nice talking point. Taking things one-step further; why not think about planting for the long term? There are a number of hard-fairing plants that flower seasonally; having natural shapes and sculptures within your entertaining space only enhances the feeling of the great outdoors and adds a bushy, green and summery vibe. A modern water feature will not only provide another talking point but also bring a feel of sophistication to the garden.
A wet-weather plan
If there is one thing we can be sure of as Brits, it’s rain. There are far too many mornings where we have awoken to brilliant sunshine, prepared a list of sunny weather activities and then by 3pm it’s torrential downpours and storm class winds. If you are planning an outdoor event and there is even the slightest hint of rain – be ready.
Suddenly having to seat 30 people in the living room while reconstructing the buffet in the dining room can be a simple affair if thought out in advance. It’s all a matter of pre-placement. Ensure the BBQ is close enough to the back door that you can move any cooked food seamlessly to and from the house. Make an obvious pathway for your guests to follow through your home to avoid bottle necking in the hallway or footprints on the cream carpet. Then finally ensure you have the seating capacity ready for the quick arrival. Your guests would never know they’ve been outside!
Philip Allan is the director and founder of By Invitation Only Events. The company organises lavish balls, banquets, parties, casino nights, wine tastings and other events for those who love an up-market bash. For more information about forthcoming events and membership opportunities go to bioevents.co