Ina Garten's Hosting Tip For Outdoor Dinner Parties This Summer

As a consummate host, it's no surprise that Ina Garten has plenty of entertaining and party tips to offer. The Barefoot Contessa has carved a niche with her laid-back style and endless supply of helpful advice that fans can't get enough of. As the unofficial start to summer draws near, Garten shows us how an ordinary tray can make hosting outdoor dinner parties much smoother.

Although Garten is an entertaining guru and a true lifestyle virtuoso, she has only two hands. Throwing even an intimate get-together outdoors requires a lot of supplies. To set the scene for your guests, flower arrangements, table linens, barware, and food need to be relocated. Rather than making endless trips between the house and the backyard, Garten uses trays to carry and stage everything she needs to keep the party running smoothly.

Like most of Garten's hosting tips, this one is easy to replicate for your next dinner party. Start by collecting trays you already own or splurge on a new oversized one, since you know you'll now use it frequently. Pretty trays can double as serving platters, and in a pinch, you can use rimmed sheet pans to transport ingredients to the grill or schlep dirty dishes away. Stick to a single material, or combine polished silver and wooden trays to recreate Garten's "high-low" aesthetic.

Tips for entertaining with trays

Ina Garten's use of trays is both utilitarian and decorative. While you can undoubtedly carry more items on a tray than in two hands, trays also serve as a valuable tool for keeping hosts organized before and during an event. Known as mise en place by French chefs, Garten uses this technique to ensure everything is in its place before cooking. Using a tray, she neatly lines up rows of glass bowls containing the diced, minced, and julienned ingredients needed for her recipe. This process eliminates the stress caused by forgetting an ingredient or tool by prepping the recipe before things get too hectic.

When she entertains, Garten prefers to set the food on a buffet and arrange a self-serve bar for guests. Not only is this easier on the host, but it's also practical. AsĀ Garten explained on her website, "That way, no one has to pass around heavy platters of food, and the table isn't crowded with half-eaten serving dishes. When I've gone to the trouble of setting a pretty table, I want it to stay pretty!"

Garten sets the buffet, using decorative trays to assign stations and frame her dishes. One tray might contain a pile of antique silverware and linen napkins, while another features Garten's no-cook hors d'oeuvres at the opposite end of the table. At the bar, a tray keeps liquor bottles neatly arranged for guests to mix a cocktail, and another tells them where to deposit dirty ones.

More of Ina Garten's tips for outdoor parties

At the root of Ina Garten's hosting philosophy is a lot of preparation. It takes considerable work to pull off a successful party outdoors. Like a mastermind, Garten scripts how the event should unfold, focusing on every detail so her guests aren't the only ones enjoying the gathering. Here are a few additional tips from the Barefoot Contessa so you can enjoy your outdoor events.

Although Garten tries to have the cooking done before her guests arrive, when the weather is right, she preps her menu in the kitchen, but cooks the meal on the grill so she can be outside with her friends. If you think grilling limits her menu, you're underestimating Garten. Some recipes, like mini prime cheeseburgers, can be cooked directly on the grill, using trays to transport patties, buns, and toppings. However, she also utilizes stainless steel cookware to saute shucked grilled corn, using another tray to organize the recipe's ingredients. If you don't have stainless steel, cast iron is a great option.

When it's time to make room for the next course or clean up, Garten unapologetically asks her guests to help to make the job less stressful. As she accurately points out, guests want to assist and contribute to the event. It can be awkward having a friend wait on you, so don't be afraid to let them get involved. It can make entertaining outdoors this summer much more enjoyable.