4 Simple Ideas for Summer Entertaining

Summer entertaining should be relaxed and fun, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego style.


We asked two entertaining experts, Stephanie Cook, owner of The Creative Planners, and Mary Rosemeyer, interior designer and owner of Eclectic Design Source, for their tips on throwing a stunning party under the stars.

Pick the right cocktails

Cook likes to keep it simple. Beer, wine and Pelligrino are safe staples for any event, but skip the mixed drinks. Instead, offer your guests a signature cocktail or specialty drink that plays off your party theme. Taking its inspiration from the garden, “The Drunken Botanist” is Cook’s latest go-to guide for delicious and colorful summer cocktails. (Try this refreshingly delicious recipe from the book for Sunshine in a Glass.)

Rosemeyer swears by champagne for any party. For a summer twist, add a splash of blood orange juice, or freeze berries and stick ’em on decorative swizzle sticks to keep things crisp.

Plan a crowd-pleasing menu

Summer entertaining should be easy and, as Cook stresses, simple can still be unique. Look to what’s fresh at your local farmer’s market or garden for inspiration. With the exception of a grilled entrée, choose items that you can prepare ahead and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Here are a few of Cook’s favorites:

  • Fresh, slow-roasted beets tossed into a green salad with goat cheese
  • Figs stuffed with smoked mozzarella for a seasonally fresh appetizer
  • Marinated flank steak with a fresh tomato salsa
  • Red potatoes with fresh bacon, scallions and feta tossed in a light, lemon vinaigrette, for a spin on classic potato salad
  • Flatbread brushed with olive oil and herbs and grilled for a few minutes
  • Homemade marshmallows, grilled to personal perfection

Set the table with style

summer-entertaining-strawsWith Mother Nature as the backdrop, any party theme can take minimal effort, whether it’s a Mexican fiesta, bridal shower or simply summer.

Buffet or sit-down, your table should build off simple ideas and should take little effort to pull off.

  • For a fresh, seasonal look, Cook recommends using bird houses, fresh greens, or even a mix of vibrant vegetables, lit by twinkling candlelight in clear or colored votives. Stick to a single hue with your flowers, and stagger tight bunches in small pots across your buffet or table.
  • For the Fourth, Rosemeyer likes preppy, nautical navy and white stripes paired with pops of red and yellow for a festive, yet not-overly-predictable splash. Mix and match patterns—geometrics have huge appeal right now.
  • Use a metal cutlery caddy as a beverage holder, dressed up with washi tape for added color and pattern without long-term commitment.
  • Serve gourmet sodas paired with nostalgic striped paper straws for extra fun.
  • Experiment with bright, bold colors. Rosemeyer loves the look of magenta, gold and tangerine with splashes of cooling turquoise.

Bring indoor comfort and style outdoors

Chicago summers are fickle and fleeting, so when you can get outdoors don’t be afraid to showcase your favorite indoor accessories, whether it’s your floral china used to display flowers or your finest table linens. Cook encourages her clients to think about renting linens to achieve a particular theme. This instantly changes the look for minimal cost. Rosemeyer likes to use her indoor pillows outside, knowing the down and luxurious fabrics are much more comfortable than stiff outdoor pillows.

The same rules of lighting apply outside, reminds Cook. Keep it soft and warm. Hang battery-operated lantern balls from your trees, or line your patio with classic tiki torches. Candles are always a great option, used generously across your tables, in lanterns across your patio and lining your entryway.