Homeowners flock to the outdoors as the weather turns warm, an impetus to entertain on decks, porches, and lawns. From graduations and birthdays to anniversaries and weddings, your home easily becomes the ideal destination for summer parties.
“The trend this year is outdoors,” says John Vazzano, owner of Vazzano Four Seasons in Stratford and Vazzy’s restaurants. “People have great back yards now, with stoves and pizza ovens and everything. We mesh with what they have.”
According to Vazzano, ocean themes are popular this year for summer parties, including clambakes, lobster bakes, and paella. He adds tapas (small dishes), and says all kinds of bread are hot along with more casual desserts such as mini cheesecakes and cake pops.
“It’s less about quantity and more about quality,” Vazzano says. “People are getting more hands-on, too. They want to be more involved in the details and know the food is all local.”
Jen Montanari, co-owner of Hub and Spoke restaurant in Bridgeport, says it’s easy to get locally sourced foods in the summer.
“Summer is the season for casual, fun and fresh. Farm-fresh vegetables, locally sourced meats and freshly made cheeses are abundant at farmers’ markets around Fairfield County,” Montanari says. If you have vegan or vegetarian guests, she suggested such healthy and delicious options as caponata, bruschetta and roasted Brussels sprouts.
To keep the party budget-friendly, Montanari advises holding an appetizer party.
“A wide array of appetizers can satisfy your guests while accommodating any dietary restrictions,” Montanari says. “Appetizers are easy to prep ahead of time, allowing you to spend more time with your guests rather than cooking.”
Megan Palmer Rivera, culinary and events director at Palmer’s Darien, says raw vegetables are trending.
“[They] are healthy, crunchy and delicious,” Rivera explains. “Raw broccoli, cucumber, zucchini, beets are just a few of our favorites.”
Recently, Rivera has incorporated more fruit in savory summer dishes.
“We have an amazing Panzanella Salad that incorporates peaches and basil. One of our favorite plated appetizers uses strawberries, goat cheese and roasted beets,” Rivera says. “Sweet and savory combinations are very popular, as are global cuisines. Clients want exciting, flavorful bites, so we pull inspiration from Latin, Spanish and Indian flavors.”
Alex Schlater, manager/catering organizer at Rowayton Market in Norwalk, said fruit bowls and finger sandwiches are big hits this summer.
“People like their guests to have options, and a variety of sandwiches with fruit allows people to have a taste of everything,” Schlater explained. “Customers are health-conscious in the sense they want to have a well-rounded meal put together, meaning customers will order a hearty main dish, such as a meat, and then they will make sure there is a side of vegetables or a starch, such as rice or potatoes, and then have some dessert options.”
Schlater notes that Italian cuisine remains supreme.
“Italian food is the most popular. People really like having a pasta option,” Schlater says. “Customers like getting full trays of lasagna or a pasta with some meat. The chef’s beef Bourguignon is very popular.”
Nancy Dolnier, vice president/general manager of Village Market in Wilton, reminds homeowners to keep their guests in mind when ordering food.
“The menu definitely depends on the crowd,” Dolnier says. “You wouldn’t do the same menu for a 3-year-old’s birthday party as a 22-year-old’s graduation party.”
Dolnier explains that food trucks are becoming more mainstream at parties. Some people bring in a truck just for desserts, while others have them cater the whole party.
Vazzano uses food trucks often. “After the wedding is over, we do a food truck with pizza or breakfast foods like bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches,” Vazzano adds.
In addition to planning the right menu, think about the beverages. Don’t forget about adding a bar to your party. According to Vazzano, more homeowners opt for wine from local vineyards and craft beers.
“We work closely with Two Roads and we do a lot with Mondavi,” Vazzano says, recommending always having a signature drink.
“The cocktail is king,” Montanari emphasizes. “Set up a bar with various mixers, liquors and plenty of ice. Make it fun! Leave out a recipe book or a few select recipes for your guests to try. Better yet? Hire a professional bartender to be the mixologist! A bartender can provide your guests with a few specialty cocktails to make your event memorable.”
Hosting a summer party can seem daunting, but you’ll succeed if you plan ahead.
“Make a checklist and stay organized,” Vazzano says. “Make sure you have tents for weather — rain or sun. If you are having more than 100 people at the house, have the right rentals and portable restrooms.”
Most importantly, remember that it’s your party to enjoy, too.
“Homeowners should keep in mind that they are hosting the party,” Montanari explains. “They should plan menus and décor that will allow them to spend time with their guests. The last thing you want to do is be stuck in the kitchen for the whole event. Hiring a caterer, bartender or service staff can give you tremendous peace of mind and free you up to enjoy the social aspects of your event.”