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How to Host an Inspired End-of-Summer Party

By: Beverly Fortune
Home dinner party with wine barrel tables

Photo Courtesy Dawn Strain

As the end of summer approaches, bringing its shorter days and cooler nights, there’s still time to throw that inspired get together to toast the season of sunshine. And to throw a superior soiree right here at home, you may want to consider a trip to Tuscany.

A dinner party is one of the most intimate ways to host a get together, says Dawn Strain of DJS Events in Westbury, and this time of year offers a great opportunity to highlight the Tuscany region of Italy as guests sit and enjoy great conversation and food. Bring in a chef, and instead of spending the night in the kitchen, you can be part of the party yourself.

“First, make a decision on how many people you are inviting,” Strain advises. “If you have a smaller guest list, maybe 30 people, you might want to do a plated dinner, where the chef can talk about how each course is prepared and paired with the wine that’s being served.  It’s very interactive and fun.”

The Atmosphere
Timing is essential, and Strain advises to start late in the afternoon or early evening. Of course, this means lighting cannot be overlooked. A good rule of thumb for outdoor lighting is it should be three times brighter than ambient light.

“I’m a big fan of up-lights,” Strain says. “I think that it changes the atmosphere immediately.”

You can also light up an outdoor space with string lights and fairy lights to create a welcoming glow as guests arrive. When the sun sets, light up the fire pits.

If you have a pool, you can decorate with floating candles and small blow-up floats, like sunflowers. “These add something special to the décor and are easy to store when the party is over,” Strain adds.

Music is another important part of the ambiance you want to create. “Entertainment and music depend on your budget,” Strain says, noting that the options can range from “a nice, chill station on Pandora or, for something more elaborate, hire a live jazz trio or a guitarist.”

In addition, Strain “always encourage people to have life-sized lawn games on hand. Any kind of game that keeps people together that has no thought process, it’s just a way to chill. Jenga, Connect Four and cornhole are a few games that keep the conversation going.”

The Table
Since this type of party is communal, Strain recommends using long farm tables and wooden chairs to create an environment that captures the spirit of dining in Italy.

“I like to decorate the table with sunflowers and tons of greenery. I also use large wine barrels scattered in the party area with old wine bottles lit with sparkling lights,” she says.

“I’ve used chargers made of slices of wood, and I usually set the table with a linen or burlap napkin. I found these really cool wine cork napkin holders, which also can be personalized.”

The glow of candlelight heightens the warm colors of the tablescape.

“This type of table setting is very rustic and earthy,” Strain says.

Tuscan Style Dinner Table

Photo Courtesy Dawn Strain

The Food
Baskets of bread served with flavored olive oil instead of butter along with warm marinated olives can be placed throughout the table. For appetizers, Strain suggests charcuterie boards filled with Italian meats and cheeses along with colorful vegetables, fruits and nuts.

“Charcuterie boards are so popular right now and go with Tuscany style,” she says.

For the main meal at this type of event, Strain recommends a plated dinner with food freshly prepared on-premise, paired with wine.

For dessert, in keeping with Tuscany style, a gelato truck would work perfectly along with a plated dessert like tiramisu or limoncello mousse.

The Drink
A unique touch Strain suggests is streaming a wine tasting. “I actually streamed a wine tasting from a vineyard in Tuscany. Before the event, they shipped the wine to the host’s home. Timing worked out perfectly, as the dinner party was in the evening here and it was afternoon in Italy.

“You could also stream a wine tasting with a Long Island winery or from across the country with your favorite wine. Everybody gets to experience something new.”

Additionally, “you can offer a signature cocktail, like a Tuscany-style Negroni, made with gin, sweet vermouth and Compari or Prosecco and fruit,” she says. “Simple and delicious,”

The Parting Gift
Favors don’t have to be extravagant and are absolutely optional, but if you want to send your guests home with a memento of the evening, “I suggest something people can use,” Strain  says. “An olive oil flavored with herbs is really nice, and if you have herbs on hand, you can make flavor them yourself.”

The Necessities
“Bartenders and servers are a must for this type of dinner party. The last thing you want to do is clean- up after your own party. That’s one of my pet peeves.”

As a precaution, Strain encourages her clients to put a tent on hold with a deposit in case of foul weather. “You need to have a rain plan,” she stresses. “It’s now a trend we’re seeing. If you wait too long and call for a tent if there’s rain in the forecast, chances are they’re rented already.”

Strain also suggests that you hire a photographer, because, she says, “no one remembers to take pictures,” or at least the ones that you’ll want to have as a memento of your fabulous end-of-summer party.