When you think of entertaining outdoors, you probably think of big family barbecues and long afternoons by the pool. But before the full heat of summer arrives, there’s a quieter, more intimate sort of outdoor gathering that’s perfectly suited to spring: the garden party. A little bit more formal than a barbecue or picnic, garden parties are perfect for a small lunch or afternoon tea when the weather is warm but not hot, and the flowers are just beginning to bloom.
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One of the biggest difference between garden parties and your usual summertime bash is that the food is usually prepared inside, not cooked outside: small sandwiches, soups, pastries, or salads take the place of the traditional burgers, ‘dogs, and chips. Especially for an afternoon tea, these meals often consist of several multiple courses. If you’d rather not be getting up every few minutes to bring out the next round of food, it’s worth investing in a small garden serving cart. These are large enough to hold plenty of food for a small group, and are designed so they can easily be wheeled in and out of the house without disturbing the food.
Garden parties are generally also smaller than big family barbecues, hosting only between two and maybe six people at a single small table. Depending on the outdoor furniture you have, a small garden serving cart can be particularly useful here, as multiple courses of food can overfill a small table very quickly. Having a place to store food before it’s served and to place plates once they’re emptied leaves more room on the table, and means you can get away with a slightly smaller table, like a cafe or bar table, even when serving a larger meal.
Serving carts are also great for presentation, because they make it possible to make a really nice arrangement of food, drinks, flowers, and so on ahead of time, then cart out the full presentation all at once when your guests arrive. Having a well presented meal of several small, delicate dishes will elevate the formal feel of a garden party, while a nice arrangement of flowers can help show off your gardening skills (or make up for a lack of flowers in your own garden!).
Serving carts come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, from very round, small carts to full sized catering carts, like you’d find in a hotel. The size you want will depend both on the kind and size of parties you’ll be throwing and also the amount of space you have – both outside around the table where you and your guests will be eating, and also inside to store the cart when it isn’t in use. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for accessories like built in stemware holders, bottle racks, or even ice buckets, which add functionality to the design without significantly impacting the overall footprint.
If you don’t have much room to store a serving cart inside, or if you’d like to use one for decoration as well as functionality, look for a cart made out of a heavy duty material that’s both weather proof and rust proof. Cast aluminum or powder coated aluminum are particularly nice choices, as they mimic the appearance of cast iron. Vining floral patterns work particularly well with Victorian styled metal outdoor furniture, and help add to the old fashioned, sophisticated ambiance of traditional British garden parties.
If you’re really limited on space, though, adding a full sized serving cart to your outdoor space simply might not be practical. Still, if you’re serving a group at a small table, moving lots of food in and out of the house isn’t practical either. A more traditional serving tray won’t allow you to bring out all your courses at once, but it does make it possible to bring out a full course for a small group in a single trip – say a full pot of tea and teacups, or half a dozen bowls of soup or salad – rather than carrying out one or two dishes at a time. Again, here, the presentation can really make a difference, even if you don’t leave the tray at or around the table.
What’s your favorite season to entertain out of doors? Do you prefer a big summer bash, or a quieter spring garden party? Let me know in the comments!