Expert Advice for Hosting Any Type of Summer Gathering
Brunch, cocktail hour, and dinner—all your questions answered.
After more than a year of avoiding social scenarios, summer gatherings are the perfect opportunity to reconnect with friends and family over tasty cocktails and candlelight. The favorable weather (along with lifted social restrictions) offer the perfect platform to invite those with whom you haven't been able to spend time to all gather in one place. As a hostess, it's easy to subvert a lovely get-together into a cause for stress in lieu of celebration, though. Worrying over the placement of centerpieces, the perfect floral arrangement, or an interesting guest list is all too easy and overshadows the raison d'être: to enjoy one another's company.
So we've called in a few experts—an interior designer, an event planner, and a florist—to answer our most pressing entertaining questions. Whether you plan on serving brunch, hosting cocktail hour, or inviting your guests to a seated dinner, they're walking us through their suggestions for menus, decor, and even playlists.
According to Florist Whit McClure
"I love to keep brunch easy and delicious—my go-to guest pleaser is a frittata. It's quick, filling, and an easy way to use up any leftover veggies and herbs you have in your fridge from the week. I also love to include a simple grazing board of cheese, nuts, jam, a fresh baguette, and some pickled things for guests to snack on when they first arrive. A bowl of fresh fruit—berries and the first stone fruits are coming into season now (you can pop a few into your glass of Prosecco, if you feel so inclined). A bright and fresh arugula salad or little-gem salad dressed with fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. All the beverages! The more sparkles, the better! Sparkling water, homemade cold brew, Prosecco, and rosé are on the top of my list."
"I prefer family style so everyone can choose what they'd like."
"For brunch, I love soft natural tones with pops of color. A natural/ beige color with colored and/or patterned napkins. Flowers can play off the color of the textiles."
"The beauty of brunch is that you can really lean into a relaxed aesthetic and it can be impactful. Because I love to serve family style, I love to create bud vases at a variety of heights to create a flow of flowers between dishes."
"Tulips, poppies, ranunculus—I love gestural flowers that will look beautiful on their own and come in lots of beautiful colors."
"To be warm, inviting, and let your guests know they've come to be loved up on and cared for."
"You can never go wrong starting off with some soulful classics."
"Get creative! Reuse any small jars and bottles for your own bud vases. If you love the shape or design of a wine bottle, save it and use it as a taper candle holder down the line. Use greenery and flowers from your yard or go on a walk and forage some. Bougainvillea is everywhere in L.A. and adds such a beautiful pop of color—just be careful of its thorns! Remember to enjoy yourself, too."
According to Founder of Bash Please Sunna Yassin
"Do not overthink this! Appetizers should be simple, room temperature or cold. Think mini caprese salad bites, compressed watermelon, flatbreads, and great grazing boards such as cheese and charcuterie, overflowing fruits, veggies, and dips! Be mindful of their placement, and make sure they are kept cool and out of the sun!
"On the drink menu, we suggest picking one great cocktail for guests to enjoy to streamline your prep, cleanup, and glassware! A summer white sangria is always a crowd pleaser, with margaritas being a very close second! White wine, rosé, and always have still and sparkling water!"
"Items should all be placed out ready for guests to enjoy!"
"Living in California means we are lucky enough to have dependable weather most of the time, so why not enjoy the outdoors? A mix of both standing around a pool or lush grass, guests seated on comfy outdoor lounges or poufs."
Photo: Courtesy of Sunna Yassin
"Bash Please always leans toward a more refined look! We can't stress enough the need to edit! Our goal is to create something that is visually stunning using texture, layers, and color. This summer we are leaning into colors that feel bright and cheerful!"
"Mixing natural blooms in with the food itself makes for a tablescape that is thoughtfully arranged without feeling too stuffy or overdone. A great way to get creative is to let the food act as a part of the decor. A beautifully curated crudité or charcuterie board always catches my eye. Mix in great baskets to hold napkins in, a ceramic vase to hold straws, a great water pitcher, an interesting beverage dispenser, and accent the space with collected vases and clippings from the yard or local flower shop!"
"Peonies are always great to display, as they bring volume and shape to the tablescape. Plus, poppies and anemones bring interest and color to any arrangement, as well."
Photo: Rachel Todd
"Really, it's the hostess' job to make their guests feel comfortable and welcomed. Guests always follow the hostess' lead and match their energy, so it's best to try and go with the flow even if everything doesn't go exactly to plan."
"I always seem to be looking for the next best playlist on Spotify, but the playlists Nancy Meyers' Kitchen and Sunday Morning - Paris Café are always favorites."
"Use decor around the house, vases, baskets, bowls, throws, flowers from the garden. We always tell our couples when they are registering for their weddings not to think about the fancy dinner party you may never throw; think about having friends over for a barbecue! Look into your county and see if there is a local "green" trash provider who can come pick up trash that has been sorted beforehand! Can you donate flowers to a hospital or nursing home after the party? Or treat a neighbor to them!"
According to Interior Designer CeCe Barfield
"Chicken Marbella is a classic and my go-to for dinner parties. The recipe calls for making the dish a day in advance, which is a win-win—it simplifies the day of preparation and creates a delicious flavor! I serve the chicken over rice as the first course. For the second course, I like to serve frisée with cheese (usually a manchego). Then for dessert, I usually order a flourless chocolate cake from a bakery and serve it with ice cream. I don't love to bake, so why bother!"
"For dinner with friends, family style is the way to go. This includes wine on the table. Passing food and beverage creates a convivial and laid-back atmosphere. If guests feel comfortable, they have more fun!"
"Seated for dinner, always. And when it is an option, I love to eat outdoors."
Photo: Courtesy of CeCe Barfield
"My tablescapes depend on my mood and the theme. Having an organized china closet makes setting the table easy because it allows me to see what I have and try new combinations. It is my lab and I am a scientist on the day of the party!"
"Low flowers that allow people to see each other, candlelight to create a warm glow, and thoughtful details to surprise guests—like little silver insects, dishes of candy, and paper crowns. I also love a good dinner game."
"The morning before a dinner party, I love to visit the Chelsea flower district to buy fresh blooms. It always puts me in the best mood for entertaining! My favorite flowers for the dinner table are ranunculus, tulips, and anemones. I never use scented flowers on the table because scent disrupts your sense of taste."
Photo: Courtesy of CeCe Barfield
"CFO: Chief Fun Officer."
"The Hotel Costes and Serge Gainsbourg stations on Pandora are my go-tos for background music."
"Petite house plants like lady slipper orchids, myrtle topiaries, and maidenhair ferns look beautiful down a dinner table and can be used multiple times, which is great if you entertain often! When I am entertaining in Texas or Virginia, the backyard is my cutting garden because there aren't flower markets near us. I love to cut tree branches, fresh flowers, and have even used big fern leaves in bud vases. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say! And if you have extra food, send guests home with a bit of it. Who doesn't love leftovers the next day?"
Top photo: Courtesy of CeCe Barfield
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