With graduation, summer cookout, and pool-party season upon us, we asked a few people well accustomed to entertaining dozens of guests at a time to reveal their best secrets for pulling off big summer bashes with aplomb.
Plan a menu that can be prepared at least 90% ahead of time and eaten with fingers or just a single utensil. Unless you have table seating for all guests, nothing you serve should require cutting with a knife. Make comprehensive ingredient and shopping lists by store and give yourself at least a full day to gather and prepare (even if it means taking a day off from work).
Have a rain/thunder/lightning contingency plan. If your party space won’t handle a crowd (even a temporary one), consider scheduling a rain date with your invite.
If you expect your party to last for several hours, pay close attention to food safety. Serve spoilable foods in flights and replenish as needed, or use large pans or chafing dishes to make ice beds for serving bowls.
Offer games – volleyball, horseshoes, badminton, croquet, wiffle ball, cornhole, spike ball, cards, etc. These serve the dual purpose of keeping kids occupied in positive ways and providing entertainment or engagement opportunities for shyer, less sociable, or elderly guests.
Place plenty of clearly labeled receptacles around for recyclables, trash, compost, etc. This will save you big time on party cleanup.
Have supplies on hand to label serving dishes if people will be arriving with food in hand. Otherwise, you may end up with a collection dishes requiring detective work to return to the right people. If you don’t want lots of leftovers, have a supply of take-home containers handy and encourage guests to load up as they leave. Other supplies to have for guests: sunscreen for anyone who forgets to bring their own and bug repellant if your party will still be going after dusk.
Take notes. If your summer bash is a hit, it could become an annual event. Write down how much food, utensils, ice, etc. was actually consumed so you can refine your calculations for next time.