Summer entertaining: 8 trends
“The backyard barbecue won’t ever go away,” says Amanda Casha of UrbanSource Catering in Toronto, of this stalwart trend of outdoor parties. As long as you’ve got beer, some items to throw on the grill and a patio table, you’re set. But if you’re looking for something a little different, be it food, drink or decor, Amanda has a few tips to share when it comes to keeping your outdoor entertaining on trend.
1 Small plates
Rather than a formal dinner with three courses, Amanda says cocktail menus with an emphasis on appetizers are a popular summer staple. “We are seeing a lot of small plates, roughly dessert plate size,” she says. “We haven’t been seeing as many sit-down dinner parties lately. People don’t want to be stuck around a table.”
Think: items you can hold in your hand, without too much fuss or mess. Grilled skewers of jerked chicken, lemongrass beef or asparagus are tasty options, as are lamb or Portobello mushroom sliders.
Dig out your punch bowl, everybody. Amanda says there’s a surge in punch popularity this summer. It’s a light and less expensive alcoholic option and can be made in a variety of ways with any number of fruity flavours. Plus, it’s easy to whip up a non-alcoholic version for kids and anyone else who doesn’t wish to drink. Amanda suggests getting an urn-style dispenser for a more modern serving option. Consider a clear urn or pitcher, so you can see the lovely colour of the punch or any fruit you float in it, such as strawberries or cucumber slices.
3 Beer tasting parties
Beer tasting is becoming a popular outdoor entertaining option, Amanda says. She suggests offering small amounts of beer and having guests compare flavour notes. You could either compare local offerings to imported varieties or choose one type of beer (i.e. fruit beers) to compare. Display full bottles in ice-filled galvanized steel buckets and print out tasting notes on small note cards. You can also send tasting notes to guests in advance so they can read up on what they’ll be sampling.
4 Back-to-nature decor
Amanda suggests simple, colourful decor, using whatever you happen to have on hand, as the way to go this summer. Green is a popular colour this season and Amanda loves it because it’s bright, vibrant and alive. Try this: Top a glass dining table with potting soil and loosely plant a variety of annuals on it. Arrange food and drink around the greenery for a playful summer display. When you’re finished, plant the plants in the garden.
Other simple decor options: Fill galvanized steel buckets with rocks or pebbles from your yard, float flower cuttings in shallow glass vases or fill pretty bowls with fruit and place on tables or bar area.5 Watermelon
Watermelon is a summer favourite, Amanda notes. Urban Souce has been making a salad with watermelon, cucumber, mint and feta and serving it in endive spears but there are a myriad of other uses for this sweet treat. Serve it up as is or cut into spears, blend with lemonade and your choice of alcohol for a tangy summer cocktail. Or, combine with cucumber into a chilled soup for a hot day. Tasty and inexpensive!
Summer entertaining doesn’t have to be restricted to evening. If you have a nice garden or patio, why not invite friends over for brunch? “Brunches are huge right now,” Amanda says. Think light, summer-inspired fare using fresh, in-season fruit. For something a little richer, UrbanSource makes a crème brulee French toast with caramelized bourbon bananas. To drink, serve Caesars and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Brunch can be a more affordable outdoor entertaining option since you won’t be spending as much on alcohol, and really, who doesn’t love brunch?
7 Signature drinks
Fancy yourself an amateur mixologist? Now’s your chance to show off how creative you can be with a cocktail shaker. Creating signature drinks is a growing trend, says Amanda. Name your creation after an event, the birthday boy or girl, or even yourself. You can either make it in large batches so it’s easier to serve throughout the evening, or simply offer the signature drink as guests come in the door as a way to welcome them.
Never mind a party -- this summer is all about the pre-party, Amanda says. Have people over before going out to an event later in the evening. “If you can only afford to have a smaller pre-party, do that versus a bigger, full-scale event,” she says.