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Alone, not confident. Think I should try entertaining again. Without any help, or should I just get a caterer?

I hope and feel this fits in the forum. Since my wife passed away, and I’ve added years and become the stereotypical old, quiet neighbor, I have not had anyone over to my home and feel bad about it. Especially because the suburban layout here is like a small enclave with houses often quite close. One couple has invited me over for casual meals and snacks and I have not returned the invitations. :-(

Now all the closest six neighbors, most new, have invited me over once to food and drink get-togethers. My late wife and I entertained, but always in a more formal way, such as sit down dinners, which makes casual entertaining foreign to me, especially on my own. Old neighbors have moved on and I probably will do so in a few months too. I suppose I could just move and maybe, at most, entertain the one couple who has been here the longest and invited me over several times.

Some of my Questions: What kind of casual get-together can I manage alone or hire someone to do? Most neighbors are younger and have young kids. I want to invite families, but what are the kids to do? Some families lay in plenty of beer or wine, and provide food, although sometimes people bring more food/drink, even when not asked. How does that happen?

Should I start out with one family that I owe most return invitations to or just jump right in with a the larger group of about six to ten neighbor families? Is it ok to show some of my more interesting travel videos and pics, if I keep it short?

OK, I did like one suggestion on here in which a couple were just starting out and they were encouraged to have an afternoon get-together with finger foods of all kinds and liquid refreshments. Will this work out OK? I have a deck that can be used in the spring. Also have plenty of inside room.

Suggestions on this entertaining challenge, including what foods are appropriate, will be much appreciated.

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  1. No caterer need, just start slow and easy with a burgers/hot dogs get-together -- with all the condiments and fixings like mac, bean, and /or potato salad etc. If anyone offers and they will, ask them to bring green salad, drinks or dessert.,.. remember to relax...

    1. If I were you, I would plan some simple cold appetizers and drinks for the whole neighborhood at once; this time of year people love to catch up (if you live somewhere where snow and cold is a factor anyway). Make it a mid afternoon thing so it's obviously not dinner. You don't have to plan entertainment, everyone will just chat, especially if you're outside. I guarantee that with your circumstances most everyone will offer to bring food. Probably desserts, if they're like my neighbors, which with kids isn't a bad thing. If you have a lawn tell them to bring some soccer balls or whatever to play with and they will amuse themselves. You don't have to hire a caterer, but if there is a gourmet shop locally they could set you up with most of it if you're not comfortable in the kitchen. Cheese and crackers, antipastas, some interesting dips and breads, little sandwiches, things you can just put out on nice platters. Use disposable plates and cutlery, they have gorgeous designs available, and cleanup will be a snap. I bet everyone will help you clean up anyway. I know everyone will appreciate a chance to really get to know each other since they are mostly new, and you will be the hero of the neighborhood!

      1. Agree with the afternoon, easy and relaxing.
        If you are very timid jumping into serving food, you could do a pizza party and order it to be delivered.
        Have on hand, soft drinks, a couple of bottles of wine, some beer, chips, prezels and desserts from a bakery!
        No fuss, no pressure, just easy! Good luck.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mcel215

          How about doing a potluck? You can provide the main entree and have the guests bring side dishes that will work well with it.

          1. re: mymomisthebestcook

            I agree with the pizza or potluck suggestions. People will be glad to contribute and it takes some of the burden off you. Or pizza, which is relatively cheap to provide for a crowd. Honestly, nobody wants or expects anything fancy at GTGs like these, so pizza and pop and plates, maybe a salad, are plenty.

            I think it would be neat if you were to put together some of your pictures on poster board for people to view at their leisure, like sometimes people do at birthday parties or anniversary parties with pictures of "through the years." I wouldn't do videos.

            1. re: rockandroller1

              I agree with not doing a video show. When I'm with people, I'd rather talk than watch a movie or play a game. Just a personal preference. If you had a projector or large TV and could create a slideshow that would be playing on loop somewhere in the background, that would be cool. Those who are interested could watch and talk about them as they please.

              I think if you were doing a cookout and just provided whatever basics you enjoy and are comfortable with, people will love it. At most BBQ's, people just expect some burgers and hotdogs, salads, fruit, and chips. Anything over that is a treat. I'm also guessing that people will be happy to jump in and help you once they get the feeling that you don't mind extra cooks in the kitchen.

              Best of luck and don't worry too much. Far too many people lack hospitality these days and I think you opening your home to people will be well received, no matter what you serve.

        2. Just want to say I'm rooting for you. An outdoor/deck meal of grilled foods, a potluck, drinks and appetizers, whatever works to bring friends and neighbors into your home again.

          I'd also recommend your taking a cooking class at the local community college or cooking equipment store. That will give you a few solid dishes to work with. Call around for suggestions.

          Sincere best wishes.

          1. Where are you located?

            1. You might enlist one of your neighbors to help you plan, especially if you have concerns about children. As a parent, I typically bring entertainment if there's a question.

              It sounds like you have very lucky neighbors. I hope you have a wonderful time!

              1. Hi, George, and welcome! I'm sorry for your loss. For me, the fact that you are now beginning to think about entertaining again says a great deal about a happy marriage. Those who had good marriages often recover best, so good luck!

                I suspect that you will probably have lots of help from the neighbors without asking, so the biggest challenge is making up your mind what kind of .entertaining, and on what scale, you want to take on. I always try to keep in mind what is practical. I love kids, but at the same time I don't want them slurping buffet style spaghetti on my white velvet sofas in the living room! But hot dogs in the back yard can be a lot of fun.

                If you happen to have a really large screen TV, or know of a way to rent one without too much hassle, a movie night with adults and kids and just the right movies might be a lot of fun. One of the advantages of not being a "spring chicken" any more is that you know of a LOT of great movies that will likely be new to all of your guests. One of the interesting things about a "Movie Night" is that you don't have to provide a full meal because a few buckets of KFC, a bowl of potato salad, beers, sodas and LOTS of popcorn will be fun for everyone, as well as a very memorable evening.

                A buffet is also an less stressful way to entertain than a full sitdown dinner on your own. One of my favorite menus for buffets is beef Stroganoff that I make from a recipe a very ancient Russian immigrant passed on to me when I lived in Turkey in the late 1950s. If you'd like the recipe, let me know and I'll write it out for you. You do the prepping well in advance, but the cooking is quick, though last minute. but it's something the ladies (and possibly some guys) will be glad to help with. It also gives you the chance to omit the kids on this one. Or not. I have no idea how old the kids are!

                You also mention the possibility of having it catered. I've had good and bad experiences with caterers, so I'm not sure how I feel about that. However, if you have a favorite local restaurant you'd like to invite people to as your guest, that could be fun, and it has the great great great advantage of no clean up afterward!

                Tons of possibilities! The great thing is that you're beginning to reach out to people again. Bravo! And may you have a great evening, whatever you decide!

                2 Replies
                1. re: Caroline1

                  I just want to reiterate one point that Caroline made: throw yourself on the mercy of the neighbors you feel closest to and tell them what you've told us: that you appreciate all the hospitality they've extended to you and that you'd love to reciprocate but haven't entertained since your wife passed away and haven't a clue how to go about it yourself. Then throw out some ideas you're considering (pick some from all the great ideas here that seem doable and appeal to you) and ask their opinions.

                  Good luck and have a great time!

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Great idea. Also, if the neighbors are involved in the planning, there's a greater likelihood of a good turnout.

                2. Informal gatherings, given by trepidacious hosts should be as easy as possible with no visible fussing. Maybe there should be one thing that involves a little activity that folks could keep busy with or be eager to volunteer for. Like grilling something over charcoal.

                  Is that a webber I see on your deck? I would be tempted to grill my favorite sausages. Also I'd get some potato and/.or other salad from my favorite upscale grocery deli counter, and big bags full of interesting chips. For dessert, put out some fresh fruit, like strawberries, pineapple spears, or quartered apples or pears.

                  Or, here's an interesting thought for dessert -- if there's a nearby Mexican Mercado, get an assortment of paletas (think icecream bars / popsicles) and serve them in a bowl of ice.

                  1. Just wanted to add to the good suggestions here: a good pot of chili can be nice, especially if the weather is still cool, and you can leave it to stay warm in a simple crockpot; provide a few accompaniments (grated cheese, pinto beans if you are a chili purist like I am, some yogurt or sour cream) and some crusty bread or corn bread. Easy to hold and eat while standing around, too.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kleine mocha

                      Add some fritos to the chili for the kids, hot sauce for the adults.

                    2. I agree w/most posters that getting everybody together for a larger, more casual gathering would be less stressful, for you especially, but for everyone. Mid- to late afternoon is probably best, esp. for kids.

                      Chances are, people will bring things. I would let them--unless that makes you uncomfortable, in which case make it very clear when you make the invitation.

                      Do you (like to) cook? Grill? If so, decide what you can do well that will feed a crowd. If you like grilling ribs or chicken, you can do those ahead, re-warm just before serving, and then throw hamburgers or hot dogs on the grill when guests are there. Or do just sausages, burgers, and hot dogs and then make sure you've got great condiments set up. Round it out w/a large bowl of potato salad and cole slaw, maybe some fruit salad. Provide desserts--or let guests who offer bring them. Have some nice dips and maybe a crudite platter available at the onset.

                      Or do a potluck, with your favorite roast meat or stew or seafood specialty as the centerpiece. That is usually fun, and it's a pretty relaxed way to entertain. Just make sure to have things set up to accommodate the incoming dishes (serving utensils/dishes) and the possibility that some will bring things that need to go in the oven briefly or be warmed on the stove. I went to a potluck a few months ago--and while there was way too much food and plenty of duplicates--it was great fun and great food. I noticed the hosts were quite relaxed all evening, eating and mingling, and at the end of the evening, they set out a stack of take-out containers so guests could take food home.

                      A buffet of finger foods is always a hit--but it is more labor intensive, unless you have it catered (and I wouldn't do that unless you can afford--and know of--a good one.)

                      If you aren't a confident cook and don't know a good, reliable caterer, find a good deli or restaurant and have some platters prepared for you--could be fried chicken, BBQ, Asian appetizers, sandwiches, crudite and fruit and cheese platters. and then, let guests bring what they want to.

                      Set up a do-it-yourself bar (or hire a bartender), with plenty of ice, glasses (or plastic cups/glasses), tongs, tubs or chests of ice for cooling wine and beer (and, if you're serving hard liquor, mixers, wedges of citrus, olives, etc.) But also have on hand water, a few soft drinks, some juices, for teetotalers. Whatever you do, don't try to play bartender yourself.

                      It sounds like you've got nice neighbors who have already reached out to you. I'll bet they will be touched by your opening your home to them and their children, they will offer help, and you'll all have a wonderful time--especially if you plan to everything is ready ahead of time.

                      And I repeat, don't try to be the bartender. I've seen so many hosts--myself included--spend the whole party running around worrying about and refilling glasses. If I am throwing a party, the first splurge, even if it's the only real splurge, will be a bartender. But a do-it-yourself bar works just as well, if not better, for a casual affair.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: nomadchowwoman

                        I agree with all you say, but would add a further suggestion. An open bar, with or without a bartender, can get VERY expensive! And as you say, it is also a very time demanding thing. What I love (and guests love) is two large bowls of punch (preferably on different tables or counters so there is no mix-up), one with alcohol, one without, and a washtub of ice with a selection of help yourself beers and softdrinks. If the punch bowls are large enough, they are totally "self tending." and the host is free to enjoy the guests.

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          I handle the drinking issue with pre-made pitchers of some kind of summer drink. Sangria, Malibu Bay Breezes, Mojitos. Similar to the punch idea. You can provide beer if you want to, but the open bar can and does get expensive. I've had single guests manage to go through nearly a quart of French vodka on their own -- for mixed drinks with fruit juice, no less. (Yes, I should learn to keep that stuff in the closet). Here in Texas, the ubiquitous margarita also serves the same purpose, but you really need to make those at least a day ahead and keep them in an ice chest with dry ice (use empty gallon water bottles).

                          Good luck my friend, We're all cheering you on.

                          1. re: RGC1982

                            Do you have any recipies you would be willing to share for some of the pitcher suggestions (mojito, margaritas, etc...) - I love the idea but horrible with proportions for a crowd and this sounds like a really good idea! thanks

                            1. re: geminigirl

                              On epicurious.com, check out the mojito recipe from Bon Appetit Jan 2001. I've doubled it to serve 12. From the same website, the white zinfandel sangria is a crowd pleaser. I think I've doubled or tripled it.

                              1. re: mountaincachers

                                I've never tried a pink wine for Sangria. I am going to give it a try.

                                1. re: RGC1982

                                  I don't drink white zin in any other circumstance, but in this sangria the pink color is very pretty and it goes well with the fruitiness of the drink. The bonus here is that you can use a cheap wine, which is great when fixing for a crowd. It's very pretty, and as I said, always a crowd pleaser when it's hot in the summer.

                              2. re: geminigirl

                                I'm sorry to hear about your loss. By now, you should be feeling a collective hug from everyone here. You've gotten a lot of great suggestions so far, and I also recommend a cook out/grilling. Where I live (in the South) another option would be pulled pork BBQ. The advantage is that you could purchase it from a restaurant if you didn't feel up to the cooking. I will also add that when kids are concerned, an easy dessert is popcicles or ice cream sandwiches. With casual entertaining, I think you could do as much or as little cooking as you want. Things like potato salad, cole slaw, etc could all be purchased if you wanted to. I think the idea with casual entertaining is that it should be relaxed and focused on the company. It sounds like you live in a great neighborhood, and I'm sure your neighbors will appreciate your effort whatever you decide to do.

                                1. re: geminigirl

                                  Here are recipes for red and white sangria. Just remember to mix before you add the soda, as the fizzing makes it difficult to dissolve the sugar. Superfine sugar is recommended, but not necessary.

                                  Red Sangria:

                                  750 ml bottle cheap red wine. Pinot Noir is the best you should use
                                  1/2 cup brandy
                                  1/4 cup orange liquer (any kind, but you don't the real expensive stuff)
                                  1/2 cup fine sugar, or reg sugar if you want to stir more

                                  Stir together well. Add one can of club soda or Sprite, if you like things a little more citrus flavored or sweet, go with Sprite. Stir gently again, as the soda is fizzy. Serve with slices of orange, Apple, tangelo that have been soaking in Triple Sec or other orange liquer. Make this at least a few hours ahead and keep it chilled so that the flavors blend.

                                  For white sangria (and this is twice as popular as the red in hot weather around here) - one 750 ml white wine. If you can get Vinho Verde, a Portugese slightly bubbling wine, get that, or else go with Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or other inexpensive white.

                                  Add: 1/4 cup brandy, 1/4 cup orange liqueur, 1/4 cup peach liqueur. Add fruit that has been soaked in peach liqueur, and yes, you can add fresh peach slices if the peaches are firm. The rest is the same as the red. Same 1/2 cup of sugar, and either club soda or sprite. I have used both, and I think they have been a hit either way.

                                  The other big, big favorite is Malibu bay breezes. There are a million recipes for this, but mostly you are talking about cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and coconut rum. This stuff goes down like fruit juice. I'll see if I can find a link for you for the one I use. I am usually mixing a big batch, so I need to look it up.

                                  I'll also check on the Mojitos. I haven't made these as often, as the fruity stuff seems to be more popular around the pool.

                                  1. re: geminigirl

                                    Okay, I found my Malibu Bay Breeze recipe.

                                    12 ounces Malibu Rum or other coconut flavored rum
                                    16 ounces cranberry juice
                                    16 ounces pineapple juice

                                    There are even some concoctions that taste great with things like Orange/Pineapple juice instead of pineapple juice. Sorry for the large proportions but I make these by the vat.

                                    Still have to find my Mojito for the Masses recipe.

                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      wow, thanks for all the help putting this down in writing, I am going to print these as they will come in handy this summer! This weekend probably will be mint julep themed for the derby!

                                    2. re: geminigirl

                                      I have no idea where I found the recipe online at this point, but I found one mojito recipe that was fairly standard, but used mint-infused simple syrup and a sweet bubbly wine instead of soda. Wow, those were good. Strong, but good. ;-)

                              3. George-- you're going to do great, i just know it! stick to what you're comfortable with & you will be fine. a big platter with cut veggies and dip can go a long way at a picnic style gathering, and you can pick it up with some ready-made salads at a grocery store deli. grill some hot dogs and set out some chips and salsa. make one or two big-batch dishes you love, like chili or cookies, so you can share with your neighbors, but keep the cooking low-stress and comfortable for yourself.

                                something to just consider: maybe if get along well with one of your next-door neighbors and would be willing to get to know them better, you could propose throwing the party jointly, with you serving as the main host? in this way you could team up with others who could help with set-up and grill duty, and the joint-hosting might make you feel more confident and give the event more of a "neighborhood" feel right away.

                                i think i know how you must be feeling now. my mom felt really isolated after my dad's death, as many of her neighbors she'd known for years in her neighborhood were leaving and passing away, and young families with kids were moving in. she is so happy that she reached out to her young neighbors, and now they have a wonderful relationship, the neighbor couple help her out with snow shoveling and heavy yard chores, their kids like to play in her yard, both parties help keep an eye & feed pets when their neighbors have to travel. it is so good to have a warm relationship with one's neighbors, especially for those who live alone. this is a great thing you are doing by reaching out to the "new folks on the block," and i'm sure they all are interested in your stories about the neighborhood and the town. i am sure you'll meet so many friends you didn't know you had! warm wishes & have a great, stress-free party.

                                1. I have to agree with everyone. No catering needed you can start easy and slow.

                                  Kids favorites you can't go wrong with burgers, hotdogs and mac and cheese.

                                  You can make all of your sides prior to the event and just heat them up if they are hot sides, pototato salad, or cole slaw, or deviled eggs can be donea day or two ahead of time.

                                  If you feel overwelmed you can go to a whole foods or your local grocery store and have them cater one thing, such as sandwiches, wraps, chicken wings or even cole slaw or potato salad.

                                  If you plan it out you can ask your neighbors to bring something, wether its soda, or chips, or plastic cups for the kids.

                                  You'll do a great job. The key is planning and preperation and then you won't be overwelmed.

                                  1. Hi George,

                                    I think it's great that you are looking to entertain your neighbors, who obviously care enough about you to appreciate whatever you manage to offer them. I think some casual grilling, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, bbq chicken pieces and shrimp skewers will please just about everyone and require a minimum amount of stress. Side dishes, such as coleslaw, potato salad, etc., can be made the day before or purchased from a good deli, and snack foods for the kids are easy enough to pour from bags into bowls! If you have enough space on the grill, go ahead and grill some corn on the cob - it's fun to eat and pretty much everyone enjoys it. Beer and soda go much better with these foods than wine, IMO, so fill a couple of coolers, set a station with cups and ice nearby, and you can turn your attention to other things. Fresh fruit salad and ice cream cake are good desserts for outdoor warm weather get-togethers, as are cookie trays. If you are concerned about people not enjoying themselves, or you're not feeling like the 'life of the party', just remember that some upbeat music and liquor is usually enough to get people chatting. You may even consider setting up a table with a blender for pina coladas or daquiris... Good luck and, most importantly, have fun. You are among friends.

                                    1. You've gotten a lot of excellent suggestions here, so I'm only going to add that just taking the first step however you choose to do it will make the next party and the next party so much easier. Don't worry about "perfection" or the "right" way to entertain; try a way that seems interesting to you and if you don't like it, try a different style next time. People like to socialize and will usually pull together to make it fun, so I think the worst that can happen is a you and your neighbors end up with a funny story about something that happened at your party! I say go for it!