Tips on hosting the perfect poolside affair

Ina Garten's number one rule is keeping it simple and classic when it comes to hosting summertime get togethers. Design menus that are outdoor friendly, delicious and loaded with knock-'em-dead eye appeal!

Years ago, as a novice entertainer, East Hampton resident Ina Garten (previously featured in our sister magazines NYC&G and HC&G) far exceeded all ideas of practicality in an effort to create memorable meals. At one of her first dinners, which was for 20, she chose custom omelets as the main course. She spent most of the evening in the kitchen making them one by one while her guests waited patiently to receive theirs—one by one!

That night, she learned a valuable lesson about practicality. To this day, she strives to design menus that are delicious, doable and loaded with knock-’em-dead eye appeal. Her goal is to help everyone to entertain while feeling like a guest at the party. For Garten, who catered thousands of parties when she had her shop and business, The Barefoot Contessa, outdoor entertaining is a breeze. Here, she shares some of her tips for successful poolside parties.

Consider the weather: “The perfect window for entertaining outdoors is between 68 and 75 degrees. That’s a really narrow window. Do you really want to eat outside? Also remember that temperatures drop in the evening. Forget the romantic image of ‘déjeuner sur l’herbe’ and get real,” she urges.

Decide how and where to serve: “By their very nature, pool parties tend to be casual. I like to set up a buffet in the kitchen or another room indoors. That allows guests to come inside, help themselves when they are ready to eat and take their plates outside to tables. Food looks and stays fresher this way.”

Keep menus simple: “For summer buffets, I often like to offer foods that are delicious when served at room temperature. If it’s ‘come for lunch and a swim,’ I might suggest lighter fare that people can help themselves to anytime, like a range of five salads such as chicken, salmon, grain, green and fruit. Cheeses and a selection of breads are great with this. And cookies are perfect when paired with the fruit salad.”

A favorite menu for a poolside dinner:
Rossini Cocktails
Thyme-Roasted Marcona Almonds (click here for recipe)
Sliced, Slow-Roasted Filet of Beef with Basil Parmesan Mayonnaise
 (click here for recipe)

Couscous with Peas and Mint
Provençal Cherry Tomato Gratin
Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake (click here for recipe)

“And one more word on food: Parties around pools often include kids. Everyone wants to eat what the kids eat, that kind of casual, fun food. So if you are planning to serve hot dogs to the kids, you better have enough for everyone!” says Ina.


“Make things easier on yourself. Rent chairs, tablecloths and tables: 48- or 54-inch rounds set for six is perfect. That is so much nicer than having a bigger group at each table. Have it all set up ahead of time.”

“Use candles on the tables but never scented ones. Put them in hurricanes so they won’t blow out. But be sure they are not so tall as to make it difficult to see around them.”

“Mix a green and white or blue and white striped tablecloth with a print napkin in the same colors for a casual feel.”

“Don’t use anything glass around the pool for safety’s sake. I love the plastic Govino stemless wine glasses, for example. They look like Riedel glasses but are shatterproof, reusable and recyclable.”

“Create a written minute-by-minute time/work schedule for yourself. That way you know exactly when everything needs to happen. It takes lots of the pressure and worry away!”


Makes 6 to 7 drinks

“I love Bellinis, which are made with Prosecco and fresh peach purée, so I thought it would be fun to find a new Prosecco cocktail. When the strawberries are ripe, these are divine. A dash of Grand Marnier makes the strawberries even sweeter.”

1        pint (2 cups) ripe strawberries, hulled
2 ½    tablespoons sugar syrup (see note at end)
       teaspoon Grand Marnier liqueur
6        orange zest strips, for garnish
1        (750-ml) bottle Prosecco, chilled

Place the strawberries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and purée until completely smooth. Pour the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and press to make a seedless purée. Discard the seeds. Add the sugar syrup and Grand Marnier to the purée and refrigerate until very cold.

When ready to serve, rub the rim of each glass with the orange zest. Pour the cold Prosecco into Champagne glasses until they’re each three-quarters full. Carefully stir 2 tablespoons of the purée into each glass and serve very cold.

Note: To make sugar syrup, boil 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water until the sugar dissolves completely, and chill. The syrup will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

All recipes mentioned are from Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof (Crown Publishing Group, 2012), except the Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake, which is from Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? (Clarkson Potter, 2010).