Any gracious host is concerned with setting a great environment for the guests. Albeit different, if you have four people versus ten or twenty, the general rules are the same, only the details in the execution are different.
A barbecue is by nature less formal than dinner and that comes with a few perks as it allows for…
3. self-serve and self-clean stations where the grab-and-dump of garbage bags at the end is the easiest and fastest cleanup ever
With that in mind, things do not have to look cafeteria-style and they can be as glamorous as any fancy dinner. Think of it as a stage setup, and plan your space as if you get it ready for a spectacle: work with what’s on the ground, what’s up in the air, what is close to you when you move around to different parts of the backyard and what do you see as a backdrop from each.
The lower ground can group not only the garbage but maybe a good display of planters to mask it. If you already have them somewhere else in the garden, consider relocating them for the event only. They will make a big difference by splashing some colour and psychologically eliminating the unfavorable feel that a garbage station can have.
MID and HIGH GROUND
One word: lights. Luckily barbecues are often trickling into the night and that gives you a great opportunity to switch the ambiance as the sun goes down. There are numerous portable lights on the market that you can buy and cluster on tables, strings of garden lights that you can place in your hedge, or even drape them around on your umbrella. The best is to vary them a bit, try to stay within the same family of shapes and light colour or two types of shapes and light colour max. Having some that are solar powered is handy.
This can be tricky but the goal here is to create visual depth. Why is it needed you may ask? Because if all you have is a table with food on it, even with the most gorgeous set up, it does not create an ambiance. It is only an object in space. The second you have people around it you can’t even see it. Having a good ambiance is key and starts with layering depth.
What a good backdrop does is stretch perception and visual stimulation away from the central object, in this case, the table. It creates distraction, it builds interest, it shapes the space that the table and the people occupy. Some backyards have that naturally as part of their design. Some do not. If you want to set up an ad hoc background that is in conversation with the table/buffet setup, the easiest way is to play on the seating area. Presumably, once the guests have gathered their food they will sit down or stand somewhere. That’s your cue. Make that space presentable and accentuate it with portable lights, colorful cushions, possibly even an outdoor rug, a corner planter. Some of my new favorite occasional pieces are garden stools – one can always find one in each style you want.
At the foreground of course should be the buffet. Like any other great barbecue, the food presentation is the glory. It is the Ohhhh!! and the Ahhh!! that everyone projects when they see the goods descending to the table. So make sure you orchestrate it to the maximum. Plan for the major platters from the beginning and arrange all the rest accordingly. Glasses, plates, and cutlery can form quite a beautiful sculptural assembly is set upright.
TIE IT ALL UP IN COLOUR
Now with everything set up, consider how you will visually tie it all together. Colour is an easy and impactful way to get this continuity. It will add a little bit of casual glam, enough to elevate everything just a tad to a super presentable yet easy and relaxed environment. Stay within a two-tone combo made of one primary and one close secondary colour. Try red/orange, or blue/turquoise, or yellow/orange. This will add a punch without it begin too colorful. Since the table will naturally have a lot of colours due to the food and all, it’s very easy to control overall colour direction with napkins and flowers for instance. One or multiple vases on the table will do the trick and together with your food presentation, will make everything else look absolutely fabulous.