Summer is perfect for outdoor entertaining. And as we have a city house, entertaining sometimes is limited because of space. So we do use the summertime to have our bigger parties, being able to use our large deck and yard in the back for people to sit, eat and socialize. In fact, we count on that extra space to host our annual Labor Day party properly.
What else can we count on Chicago? Unpredictable weather.
Last year, as well as this year, rain storms threatened. I had to set up the food, drinks and eating areas inside last minute for 10 adults and 10 kids. After I panicked and chugged a glass of wine, hubby and I got to work. In the end, it all worked out fine. Everyone was stuffed, buzzed and left happy as ever, saying it was a great party. So mission accomplished!
The main things you need to ask yourself are "where am I putting the food so it makes sense and foot traffic through the line can be organized?" Same with the beverages. Then think through where people can sit and enjoy the food, kids included. Kids are more flexible. They can sit where ever, including the floor, and eat on their own schedule as they are playing with other kids. So keep that in mind and use it to your advantage!
Where can I put food?
Do you have a buffet in the dining room that's loaded with pictures? Dump them in a drawer and set up the sides on top with serving utensils. If you don't have a buffet, do you have a small folding table you were going to put outside that now can be popped in a corner of the dining room to hold some dishes? Splitting up the food from mains and sides between two areas opens up the food lines a little, so there is not a big traffic jam in one area.
Where can I seat people?
Clear up any and all tables you have in the house, and pull out the extra chairs you have so that people can find seats and empty surfaces to eat and chat.
Use your living room coffee table too if you have one. You can't see it in this pic-I swear I took a pic of it for you. But oh well! I threw a table cloth on the coffee table in the living room, and let kids know that they could sit around it on the floor and eat their dinner. If you are worried about messes on the carpet, place a washable blanket underneath the table, and throw it in the wash once the guest are gone. If your living room has a TV, entice the kids to sit and eat with a Pixar movie playing. That always works here!
Where else can I put food?
Use your kitchen counters. Here is the Italian beef that I decided to put in a crock pot to save space (versus large trays over Sternos that take up a ton of room), and plug that baby in. Place rolls and toppings near it. To the left I was going to put some other pyrex pans filled with entrees.
Don't forget your stove. It's a major surface area in your kitchen, and makes things easy for you because you won't have to travel far once things are heated up. I decided once I pulled out my lasagnas, I was going to just keep them on the stove, have a pot of heated sauce for topping on a burner, throw in the serving spoons and let the hunger games begin.
Figure out a place where guests can grab the essentials; plates, utensils, napkins, pepper. I decided the small counter near my stove which was now going to feature the main dishes hot out of the oven was best. Make the area nice by using matching linen and some flowers to alert people visually to the area.
Find a place to feature your desserts. Here my kitchen table was doing double duty. We cleared it, added the leaf to make it larger and brought out extra chairs so it could accommodate more guests to eat comfortably. And it helped show off my homemade pies that I was serving for dessert.
Now this year I bought a long and skinny folding table that fits nicely under my dining room window. Its skinniness allows it to stay out of the way, but I can put out all my desserts, coffee cups, desert plates, coffee carafe and forks on this table. It keep things out of the way until needed toward the end of the evening. I bought it at Kmart for 30 bucks. It caused a marital argument of monumental proportion of which I won. But every time I use it at a party, I am sooo happy. It can work for drinks, or you can put plates and stuff on it too. It has been worth the marital strife. Trust me.
Where do I put drinks?
Find some counter space for wine glasses, charms, cups, a sharpie (for guests to write their name so they don't lose their drink) cocktail ingredients and such if you don't have a bar. We don't have a traditional bar. SO I move all of C' school papers, and the misc nonsense that piles up on this part of the counter, and I made it a drink station.
We also kept a giant cooler outside the kitchen door with pop and juice. It's the only thing we kept outside, and we kept it close for guests so they wouldn't get too wet if they wanted to grab a beer just outside the door.
***SO there you have it! Don't cry in your beer when the rain comes for your party, your party can still be rocking inside! You may need to move a couple of things in drawers for the day, to clear off tables and open up space. But your house can be put back together once the guests are gone and your hangover leaves you. :) But for the day, the party must go on!