Living Space: 5 tips for summer backyard entertaining on a budget
While you may never be on the Martha Stewart or Ina Garten level of home entertaining (after all, we don’t all have a home in East Hampton with a lush backyard), there’s no reason you can’t aspire to these mega-hostesses’ easy, breezy entertaining philosophies.
And while you’re at it, you can aspire to host for less — making Friday night dinners or Sunday brunch for the friends you call family affordable, digestible and eminently enjoyable affairs. After all, the pleasure is not so much in the pudding (though it can be!) as it is in the company. So instead of going in the red to fund an all-out backyard barbecue or intimate outdoor cocktail party — or perhaps worse, giving up on the idea of hosting altogether — check out these savvy and simple ways to save money on your summer shindig.
1. Don’t get carried away.
First things first: Decide what you’re going to make and stick to the plan. Whether you’re hosting a brunch for six of your closest friends on your back patio or a Sunday supper with your neighbors and their two kids, put together an appropriate menu based on the number of people as well as the occasion.
Food writer and photographer (and editor of Good. Food. Stories) Casey Barber, who also happens to be semi-famous in certain circles for her legendary, meticulously themed Christmas parties (pre-COVID-19), admits to fighting the urge to make too much food every time. “Over-serving my guests is the number-one way costs get out of hand,” she cautions.
Barber urges hosts not to overdo it. And if you simply must add one more thing, take a nod from Martha and put out some radishes and olive oil: cheap and delicious.
2. Let the sides take center stage.
The announcement from one of the world’s top restaurants, Eleven Madison Park, that it will no longer be serving meat or seafood in its multi-course tasting menu should tell you one thing: Meat isn’t everything. In fact, it may not be necessary at all. Barber says if you’re serving meat — and note the “if” here, for you’re obviously not obligated to include it on your menu at all — you should use it as an accent, not the main course. Less is more, and Barber suggests grilling one large steak (skirt and flank steaks are both more affordable than porterhouses or filet mignons) and slicing it up for fajitas or with a wedge salad instead of bacon for something a bit more substantial.
3. Embrace nature as your decor.
Indeed, one of the beautiful things about hosting a small summer gathering is the great outdoors. Less cleanup is an obvious win for the host (you’ll have even less work if you go for paper plates and paper utensils, of which there are now many environmentally friendly options to choose from), but another bonus? There is absolutely no need to decorate.