I have fond memories of warm summer dinner parties when my father would grill Korean BBQ while my sister and I would catch one last swim before sunset, and then my family and our guests would sit outdoors at our small picnic table, eating a panoply of Korean and American food. My hair would be wet and my legs covered in mosquito bites, but those dinners still serve as some of my fondest memories of summer soireés.
As an adult, summer dining changed a bit, but the happy casualness that I recalled from my childhood remained intact. In my 20s, I would often go to crawfish boils hosted by friends, spending more time laughing and cracking the tiny crustaceans than eating them, but my friends and I enjoyed those meals as much as any five-star restaurant’s. Then there were the years of rooftop BBQs where burgers and rosé became weekend staples, and the long days would encourage guests and new friends to linger just a bit longer. And then I married a New Englander who introduced me to this formerly foreign concept of clambakes, which are probably the most divinely delicious version of outdoor dining (and cooking) that one could imagine. And while all of these events were different, they were all so memorable, particularly because the hosts and hostesses made the events seem carefree and easy.
I have these wonderful memories, I think, in part, because of how carefree summer parties generally are. For summer events, the stiff rules go out the window, and people can just relax and enjoy themselves. Summer is a time when dinner dress codes can sometimes be defined as “come as you are” (flip flops are ok!), meals can be eaten with your hands (corn and lobster, thanks!), and everything is just a little less fussy. I love attending summer gatherings, but I love hosting them even more.
However, despite the laissez faire nature of summer dinner parties, there are still some rules to keep in mind so that your guests have a rollicking good time. Here are our top 6 Do’s and Don’ts:
1. Do Your Homework Beforehand and Strategize Introductions
Just because it’s a casual get-together doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your part as host or hostess to ensure guests can mingle easily without awkward introductions. Get conversations going by finding interesting ways of introducing people (the wittier the intro, the better!).
2. Do Offer DIY Drinks
Since summer get-togethers are more casual in nature, there’s often no need to have a formal bartender (or, worse, for the host to bartend all night!). Set up a cocktail table where folks can pour from a pitcher or grab a beer themselves.
3. Don’t Try to Do It All
When guests offer to bring something, let them! As host or hostess, you’re allowed to own the main course, but given the casual nature of summer time dinner parties, you’re also totally permitted to outsource accompaniments (dessert, wines, sides, etc.). But don’t hesitate to vet the dishes beforehand or give specific instructions when asked — this will save your guests the embarrassment of bringing something that clashes with the rest of your spread.
4. Do Offer Light Bites
Allowing for a lengthy cocktail hour at the start of the party is the best way to get guests chatting before dinner. But there’s nothing worse than anxious guests who are hungry drinking on empty stomachs. Give everyone something to snack on so that no one is counting down the minutes until dinner is served.
5. Don’t Use Paper Plates
Just because everyone’s eating with their hands doesn’t meant you should use paper plates. Remember, people eat with their eyes first! Food always looks better on real plates, even for casual dinner parties.
6. Don’t Put Off Cooking Until the Last Minute
If possible, make things in advance. Pasta salads, tagines, and marinades are easy things to make ahead of time. Popping things in the oven or on the grill is even easier if everything is prepped the night before or the morning-of.