• Keep it simple Garden parties should be easy. You don't need to make a hundred dishes, or go for complex, layered meals. Instead, choose a few dishes that really highlight seasonal vegetables. Opt for family style platters, and drinks in big pitchers so that everyone can serve themselves. Remember, when the host is relaxed, the guests are relaxed too.
• Use the grill sparingly Your natural instinct might be to reach for the grill tongs. But if your goal is to be able to visit with your friends around the table, you won't want to chain yourself to the fire. We often do something like a cedar-planked fish for the main entree, but make room temperature salads and sides indoors ahead of time. During the 20 to 30 minutes it takes the fish to cook, we can be visiting with friends, rather than fussing with grilled vegetables, or flipping chicken.
• Limit trips back and forth A week before the party, make a list of everything you'll need outside for your guests to be comfortable. This includes salt and pepper, water, napkins, and dressing. Try to have it all outside before your guests arrive, so that you'll only have need a few extra hands to help you bring out the food.
• Consider having a progressive dinner You don't need to do everything outside. For beginning cooks, maybe you just want to have drinks in the garden, and dinner in the comfort of your house, where the kitchen is nearby. Or, if you've got an open kitchen, have your guests sip cocktails and chat with you while you finish things up, then help you carry dinner out to an awaiting table in the garden.
• Have a backup plan Remember what happens to the best laid plans. In case of rain or unseasonable weather, don't invite more people than you can comfortably accommodate inside.
Image: Sporkist via Flickr Creative Commons
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