Organize a breezy summer party in less than 30 minutes

When was the last time you entertained or spent any meaningful time catching up with good friends over a leisurely dinner?

If you answered either option “more than three months ago,” then it’s time to take advantage of summer’s more easygoing pace and organize a gathering of your own. While that may sound daunting, the truth is, you can organize a lovely party in fairly short order without a lot of work (just ask our July Challenge participants). I’ve outlined a plan that will take you from dreaming about it to actually doing it in less than thirty minutes. Who knows, if you’re reading this in the morning, follow these steps and you could even host a small gathering this evening – yes, even if you work full-time.

Here are the 5 key steps to quickly organizing a summer party.

1. Create & send a gorgeous invitation via Paperless Post.

There’s nothing like an invitation to make even a relatively impromptu get together feel more like a real party. But skip the paper invites and the generic emails. Instead, create a gorgeous invitation that get’s delivered via email in an envelope by They have a library of stunning designs, many of them completely free. Customizing a template and sending it to your friends should take less than ten minutes. We both love being on the receiving end of these beautiful e-cards. So go ahead, give your guests a reason to feel special.

2. Ask guests to bring a side dish or dessert.

Parties are usually more fun when the entire group gets to contribute a culinary delight or two. So be sure to specify in the invitation that part of the RSVP is letting you know which side dish or dessert they’re bringing. And don’t feel guilty! Your job as the party host is to organize the gathering, supply the heart of the meal (i.e. grill), and provide the space. {image via: Pretty Girl Food}

3. Whip up a gorgeous table centerpiece using an old wine (or other) bottle.

Rather than simply recycling every last wine bottle you use over the next few weeks, keep a few aside to use as table decorations. Once they are clean, simply add a few tall greens and flowers, like Queen Anne’s Lace, from your backyard and tie a decorative ribbon around the glass. If you live in a city, pop down to your local deli and get a bunch or two of inexpensive, tall greens & flowers. Because the mouth of the bottle is so small, a few flowers go a long way. This exercise should take about ten minutes. For a step-by-step tutorial on how to make the ones pictured above, head on over to Hostess With the Mostess.

4. Prepare a Mouth-Watering Marinade for Grill Items.

Whether you’re serving up chicken or steak, tofu or veggies, a nice marinade will make all the difference. The good news is that they are incredibly simple to make. Just combine an oil, like olive oil, with an acid, like lemon juice, add some spices, and you’re done. Even an inexperienced chef could whip up a good one in two or three minutes. If you’re looking for good recipes, the Mojito marinade from Barefeet in the Kitchen pictured above is making my mouth water! In addition, has a list of ten great marinades.

5. Brew some iced tea.

There’s nothing quite like a cold, refreshing glass of iced tea (or lemonade) on a hot summer day. Skip the sugar-filled store bought bottles and brew your own in a matter of minutes – two hands-on time to be more precise. Heat up some water, put in tea bags to soak. When the tea has reached room temperature, add ice, and serve. If you’re looking for a unique twist, use an herbal tea with a bit of zing to it, like Sarah’s favorite, Red Zinger® from Celestial Seasonings. {image & some great iced tea recipes via: Martha Stewart}

Feature photo via: Lisa Storms Typepad

When was the last time you entertained? If it’s been awhile, what’s your excuse?