How to Host the Perfect Garden Party

With balmy temperatures, glorious sunshine and a summer of post-pandemic fun on the horizon, there has never been a better time to host a garden party. In our previous blog post, we discussed why al fresco dining is here to stay, and how trends in outdoor events reflect people’s renewed appreciation of both food and nature. In this blog post, we offer our top tips for hosting the perfect garden party, with plenty of ideas and advice to ensure a stress-free, stylish and sustainability-forward experience for you and your guests!

Make a statement with your tablescape and overall scheme.

Setting the table is all about setting the tone of your gathering, and a statement tablespace adds a sense of occasion, signalling to your guests this is an event to savour and remember. Bright colours and bold patterns exude joyful, care-free confidence, and it can be equally effective to coordinate or mix and match elements across your party.

Gingham is the spring-summer style we can’t get enough of right now, so we’ve pulled together our top picks showcasing this mood-boosting print.

Country-kitchen style tablecloths, place mats and napkins in natural fabrics suggest relaxed, blissful domesticity, making your guests instantly feel at home. Plus, they are easily washable, and ironing is not completely necessary – crumpled texture adds character – so there is no need to worry about spillages on the day or ironing in advance.

Consider coordinating with an eye-catching gingham dress like this bold and bouffant-sleeved number, handmade from deadstock fabrics by small-scale designer and seamstress Benjamin Fox, or the easy-breezy silhouette of this oversized maxi by April Meets October (and sourced by Hackney-based Studio B Fashion).

To take things up a notch, invest in a striking yet practical centre piece such as this poppy-pastel water jug from Vaiselle, or this quirky Ceramic Room vase we spotted on Glassette. Keeping things functional prevents decorative waste, and long-lasting items like this offer years of usage as well as immense pleasure!

Pack a punch with these refreshingly different drinks.

Swap standard soda and squash for something stylish and sustainable with these refreshingly different drinks ideas.

The Juice Round is an eco-friendly drinks service, based locally to us at Social Pantry, offering hand-made small-batch juices and smoothies in reusable glass bottles that they collect, clean and refill – just like the milkman but fruitier!

Kombucha has established itself as a firm fermented favourite. Serving home-brewed kombucha is guaranteed to impress, however if you don’t already have a batch on the go, you’ll want to scope out the market for a readily available variety of kombucha to serve. With so many brands to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. We love London-based MOMO Kombucha who brew small-batch kombucha in glass jars. The new Elderflower flavour provides a refreshing twist on the English summer classic of elderflower cordial and is our pick of the range!

Toast Ale makes craft beer with surplus bread in the place of barley, using less land, water and energy and avoiding carbon emissions as a result, and is what we serve across our Social Pantry sites! Toast Ale gives all profits to charity, not shareholders, funding systemic change to fix the food system, so you know your purchase is supporting the greater good rather than the drinks industry giants.

Make friends with your local suppliers.

Your suppliers are some of the most important people at the party, so just like your guests, give them plenty of notice once the date is set! Summer, and bank holidays, present a busy time of year for butchers as more people opt for prepared, quick cooking, pre-marinated meats that can be whacked on the barbecue rather than laboured over in the kitchen, and greengrocers experience tomatoes and strawberries bought by the crate-load for classic caprese salads and strawberries and cream desserts. Giving your local suppliers as much note as possible of your upcoming event ensures you get the produce you want (no last-minute panicking over ingredients!) and helps them to manage stock levels and communicate with farmers and growers across the supply chain. For advice on where to shop for the best seasonal produce, check out our recent interview with chef and author of ‘The Food Year, William Dee’ as he shares a long list of speciality suppliers he loves!

Get out of the kitchen – and stay out – with advanced planning and preparation.

Planning dishes you can make in advance, and don’t require you to slave away in the kitchen, leaving your guests to mingle without you, has become to golden rule of dinner party hosting. However, this applies even more in the case of garden parties, as it won’t be so easy to ‘pop your head out of the kitchen’ and keep an eye on the party if your guests are outside and you are inside! Choose recipes that can be made the day before so that you can focus on the final details on the morning of your event, and embrace ambient dishes such as savoury galettes, quiches, salads and sharing platters that don’t need to be served piping hot and are just as enjoyable at room temperature as when they first come out of the oven. At the other end of the spectrum, whilst ice cream might seem like an obvious choice for a garden party, if it’s set to be a scorcher, you might be better off serving a chilled rather than frozen pudding. Ice cream in the sun can be a challenge at the best of times, and when you’re feeding a crowd, you don’t want to worry about things melting whilst you’re still trying to get everyone back to the table or before everyone has been served. See our dessert ideas for build your own food stations that take the pressure off presentation and timings when it comes to finishing with something sweet.

Take sustainable and showstopping shortcuts.

At Social Pantry, we like to make everything on the menu from scratch, and hand-select every finishing touch, that is what we specialise in after all! However, we understand that’s not so easy when you’ve taken it upon yourself to host a party on top of your other life commitments! Give yourself permission to take shortcuts and know this doesn’t have to mean compromising on style or sustainability either. Whilst you can outsource your catering and styling entirely to a team like ours at Social Pantry, you may prefer a blended approach outsourcing only a few specific tasks and including timesaving pre-made food products in your spread!

The Newt in Somerset has launched an online farm shop offering nationwide delivery of luxury provisions direct from their farm, on-site bakery, dairy, butcher and cyder-press, as well curating products from other small-scale makers they love. The Somerset Cheese & Charcuterie Selection, complete with their own spelt and ale crackers and somerset cheese pickle, does all the work for you when it comes to curating a delectable spread. Plus, you can add loaves such as Apple Waste Sourdough Bread, which is fermented using the apple waste from cider production, and savoury pastries including Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls, Pork Pies or Asparagus & Stavordale Tarts, to your order – allowing you to build the perfect British banqueting table at the click of a button!

There are also more sustainable brands stocked in supermarkets than ever before, with brands such as ChicP that make delicious, colourful hummus and dips from surplus produce, available from Ocado, Co-Op and instant grocery delivery such as Zapp (perfect if you’ve left things until the last minute!). Decant dips into small bowls, top with a glug of good olive oil and a handful of chopped herbs for simple wow-factor and serve with a selection of gourmet crispbreads (such as the Peter’s Yard range), crisps or crudites for an easy yet impressive spread!

 

Build your own food stations take the pressure off presentation.

Another simple, effective way to relieve yourself of some of the pressure surrounding preparation and presentation (and trying to please everyone!) is to set up ‘build your own’ food stations. Whilst you might instinctively choose to offer a barbecue this way – laying out floury baps and hot dog rolls and condiments galore to accompany items hot from the grill – or put together a buffet of sharing dishes that can be mixed and matched, the principle can also be applied to concepts such as tacos, poke bowls and pizza. Yes, this still requires you to do the prep work in advance, but when it comes to getting food to your guests, the task is (literally) in their hands! Interactive, help-yourself offerings like this can be especially effective when it comes to dessert, as the size and timing of people’s appetite for sweets is often more variable than with the main event. A build your own banoffee pie station is pure fun and indulgence. All you need is:

  1. Crushed digestive biscuits (mix a 2:1 ratio of biscuits to melted butter in advance for an extra decadent biscuit base!)
  2. Sliced bananas
  3. Jars of Joe & Seph’s award-winning caramel sauces (mix and match any 5 and get the 6th free)
  4. Whipped double cream (we love The Estate Dairy)
  5. Chocolate shavings (Pump Street Chocolate drinking flakes are ideal)

It’s a super simple formula, guaranteed to be a hit with guests of all ages.

 

Keeping little ones fed and entertained can be child’s play…

Rather than catering a completely different menu for children, provide simplified versions of what you plan to serve by setting aside portions that can be offered without elaborate dressings or final touches. Dedicating an area of the table specifically to foods that younger guests will enjoy can help to build confidence in cautious eaters and allow little ones to feed themselves more independently. However, making more complex foods visible and available for more adventurous eaters to try is a great way to increase food exposure and set children up for future social eating encounters. For example, strips of fluffy pitta and creamy hummus will likely be devoured by all, whilst you might want to save big-hitting olive tapenade, smoky taramasalata and punchy anchoiade for older guests. You could set aside a dish of corn on the cob dressed simply with butter, whilst also serving a show-stopping side of corn topped with harissa-lime butter, chopped coriander and feta. Same goes for skewers or potatoes that you might like to serve with a dazzling green sauce or offer the contrast of cool creamy labneh and aromatic chunky dukkah – simply keep some plain and offer dips on the side for younger diners and save yourself the work of cooking two separate menus.

When it comes to keeping small guests out of mischief, a scavenger hunt is a great way to keep children entertained outside and Green Earth Learning’s Nature Scavenger Hunt Bag of Wooden Discs provides the added bonus of promoting learning about nature through play. A make-shift alternative is to set little explorers the challenge of finding something in nature for each letter of the alphabet – A for ants, B for buttercups and C for caterpillar should see them get off to a strong start, whilst you might have to afford some creative license when it comes to ‘x, y, z’!) – with a prize to the person or team that fills in the most letters.

 

Hold your head up high and graciously accept compliments!

 

Hosting can feel daunting, and unrealistic expectations about being a domestic goddess or ‘host with the most’ can lead to feelings of stress or insecurity if the littlest thing goes wrong. Chances are, you’ve done a much better job than you believe – especially if you’ve taken on board a few tips from this guide! Chefs often describe how friends or family avoid cooking for them or inviting them over because they fear their culinary skills won’t live up to expectations, when they would in fact be sincerely appreciative of anyone going to the effort of hosting! Food is an important part of social gatherings, but our experience of food goes beyond what is simply in our mouths. The surroundings, people we eat with and atmosphere all contribute to what makes for an unforgettable food experience, so you’re better off zooming out and focusing on creating a relaxed, convivial ambience and sparing yourself of unnecessary stress so that you can be more fully present, rather than sweating the small stuff! Confidence is compelling, so hold your head up high and graciously accept compliments and allow yourself to bask in the moment now that your garden party has come about!  It’s always impressive seeing someone else throw a party, so the praise, gratitude and admiration will be sincere. Own it! At Social Pantry, we want our clients to feel empowered throughout the party planning process and proud of the end result, and this extends to you too! We hope this guide gives you ideas and inspiration for hosting your own perfect garden party, and we’d love to hear how you get on over on Instagram @social_pantry where you can message us or tag us in your party pictures!

 

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