A few weeks ago, Daughter Erin emailed to suggest we take advantage of an opportunity. She and her boyfriend, Rob, who live in Brooklyn, were coming to see Rob’s brother graduate from college. Rob’s entire family was coming to Minnesota from Seattle for the big event as well. Could we put together a brunch so the two families could meet on Sunday morning before they had to return home? We thought it was a great idea!
Before we knew it, the guest list had swelled to 30. Rob’s family is large, Pete’s family is large, Pete’s first wife’s family is large, and mine is . . . well, small by comparison. It was clear we needed to plan a buffet, but not so clear on seating arrangements. Who has that many chairs, much less dining space? Our brunch buffet would have to be al fresco. And, having sold our garden furniture last year and not yet replaced it, we were going to have to innovate.
Adding to the dilemma was the weather’s behavior. “June Gloom” had descended upon Minnesota, with a seemingly interminable number of rainy, overcast days – the kind that make you want to curl up into a ball and stare blankly at the television at worst, or at best tackle the pile of books waiting to be read. Drizzle to downpour, any kind of rain would spoil our parade, forcing us inside to standing room only.
To logistical rescue came Pete’s sister, Jenny, with four eight foot tables and sufficient chairs borrowed from work. We added our six foot folding table in and came up with an “H” arrangement that allowed the food to be in the middle of everyone, and everyone to have a chair. The card table would hold china and utensils. The Mimosa bar would be set up on the dining room buffet for socializing before we all trooped outside. All we could do was pray there would be a break in the rain.
Since Pete does all the cooking in our family, he chose the menu and assigned other items as needed. In Minnesota, the polite response to any invitation is, “What can we bring?” This was going to work to our advantage. We’d serve ham and bacon from our piggy, spinach omelet roll-ups (Pete’s invention), Jenny’s “cheesy potato” casserole, and Teri’s baked goods and pastries. Erin’s mom, Deb, was in charge of fruit salad, and her sisters contributed to the beverages. Her brother, Mike, brought fresh bread. Grandpa wanted to bring champagne so we let him. 🙂
Presentation was up to me. I wanted things to look nice but not overly contrived, and not only was I challenged by the weather threat, but my budget was minimal to boot. I knew the table settings might be subject to water falling from the sky unless they were put together at the last minute, and even then, without being able to predict, it was possible we wouldn’t be eating outside at all. If it continued to rain, we were all going to get to know each other really well. I figured should this occur there would be ample reason just to drink. more.champagne.
So, naturally, my first stop in search of affordable decor was The Dollar Store. Seven white coated paper tablecloths that wouldn’t immediately disintegrate under moisture attack, $1.00 each. Sixteen miniature glass vases (I chose the wide mouth, but I could have had a coupe or fishbowl shape as well), $1.00 each. I headed to Paper Warehouse and picked up some dinner napkins in fresh green, $5.50 for 75 (awesome!). Lo, the same tablecloths from the Dollar Store were twice as much at Paper Warehouse.
My major idea coup occurred in the giftwrap aisle. I noticed that one roll of wrapping paper was 16 feet long. What would happen if I used it as a table runner to add some color? I decided I would try to slice it in half width-wise on the roll when I got home, and then we could simply unroll each half down the length of the tables. $3.49.
I was at a grand total of $31.99 before flowers. Usually for parties I like to run down to the Minneapolis Farmers Market and purchase freshly cut stems in bulk. But with the way it was raining, I didn’t want to wait until the morning of the party to risk wandering through every stall and not finding something I liked. So I headed to Costco.
The selection at Costco was pre-mixed cut stems in several colorways, tight bunches of medium size roses in many different colors, or 16 stem bunches of alstroemeria and mini carnations at $8.99 each. I chose: grape alstroemeria, peach mini carnations, and a mixed bunch of alstroemeria. Total spent on ambiance: $58.96.
It’s annoying to have to look through flowers when you’re trying to have a conversation at table. So, that means arrangements have to be impossibly high, or snug and compact. We were going with snug and compact. At home, I sliced 7/8ths of the long stems off and mixed up the flowers into the vases. All went together rather quickly.
All day Saturday before the brunch, Pete prepped. He decided to do a Cranberry Orange glaze for the ham, riffing off this recipe from Epicurious. He changed it to include 1 12 oz package of frozen cranberries, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup cranberry juice and orange zest. He also prepared a Creamy Mushroom Gravy for the omelet rolls, using this recipe, but substituting caramelized fresh garden onions instead of the plain chopped onion it calls for.
We figured we would liberally pour the champagne and perhaps it would brighten up by the time we were seated. Seattle people should be used to that, right? 🙂
Everybody had a great time! Extra flowers went home with the ladies, and no one was late for their flight. There was a lot of laughter and easy-going banter, and the H arrangement let people easily move from one group to another, or refill their plates.
Now that we’ve done this once for this many people, we’re old hands! I much prefer having meals outside whenever possible, and this was the perfect solution for a big crowd without going to a lot of trouble or expense.
What are some of the ways you’ve found to successfully entertain large groups?