There are a few things I hope you’ve picked up after reading this blog for any amount of time: namely, the joy of fiscal responsibility, a deep appreciation for goals of every stripe, and a conviction that donuts are delicious. Also, this:
YES! We are the kind of people who use our wedding china on a daily basis. The people who crack open the letterpress stationery for a quick note. And yes, we are the people who throw adventure dinner parties.
I’ve been reading the blog Oh Happy Day for years, and Jordan is the one who initially introduced me to the idea of an adventure dinner party. As far as I can define it, it’s a meal shared with friends and the trappings of an indoor occasion — table, chairs — on public property. So, a fancy picnic. I was immediately taken with the idea, as I have a deep love for creating memorable experiences for the people I love. I put it on my 101 list almost three years ago, finally checked it off (hooray!!), and would now like to share a few tips I picked up along the way.
1. Choose your location wisely. It must be said: don’t dinner party on someone’s private property unless you have their permission. Duh. Also, don’t break any laws, and I’d suggest not choosing a location that expressly forbids picnicking. In fact, I’d look for a place that DOES encourage it — because really, an adventure dinner party is just an elaborate picnic, so if picnicking is allowed, you should be in the clear. Try also to find a location that has parking close by, since you’ll be hauling a fair amount of stuff from your car. Also, a bathroom, especially if two of your friends are pregnant.
Once you’ve found your location, make a scouting trip before the big day — even if it’s a location you’re familiar with, you’ll see it with new eyes. We chose the NC Museum of Art’s Art Park as our location (we took our engagement photos there). Here I am on our initial scouting trip in our chosen spot:
There was even a path mown to it!
2. Plan a moveable menu. The more food that can be transported and stored at room temperature, the better. Bonus points for anything that packs down tightly and requires few or no utensils. We chose chips and salsa as an “appetizer” (just served them out of the bag and jar, respectively), and Cobb salad as the main course. We brought the pre-washed spinach and arugula in the boxes it came in, and all of the other ingredients — hard boiled eggs, turkey, bacon, tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese, vinaigrette — in mason jars. Guests could assemble as they pleased. We also packed watermelon mint lemonade in Weck jars and fruit skewers in a 9×13 pan with a lid.
3. Make your packing list and check it twice. You’re going to be (kind of) out in the middle of nowhere, so there’s no running back to the kitchen when you realize you forgot plates. Walk through the entire event in advance and make sure you have — and pack — everything you need. Think about clean-up, too. Among other things, we brought mason jars for guests to drink out of (with lids, so that we could just screw the lids on at the end of the meal and not worry about rinsing them or drips), wooden forks, plastic plates (I figured they’d be less likely to blow away than paper), and bug spray. We packed everything in our cooler and my oversize Bean bag.
4. Get the right equipment. Because we could see ourselves doing this again, we bought a tote-able 6-foot table and two folding chairs from Home Depot to supplement the six folding chairs we already owned. Renting would also be an option. So would buying from Craigslist if you leave yourself enough time. We already had a surplus of mason jars, but they’re pretty cheap at Walmart.
5. Invite the right guests. You want people who will relish the experience, and be excited about something different… not think the obscure location and mysterious lead up are a hassle. Guys, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have friends and a husband who appreciate things like adventure dinner parties!!
6. Have fun with it. You’re creating an experience for your guests, so layer on the fun touches! Keep the location a mystery until the last minute, or text clues in the days leading up to the party. (I’d recommend giving them an estimate of how long it will take to drive to the location, though!) Bring a tablecloth. Send invitations in the mail. Order up a giant balloon to mark your spot. On that note, make sure you have a car large enough to transport said balloon — I have an SUV, and had to fold my seats down to fit it in! It wouldn’t even fit through the doors of our house!! We bought our 36″ balloon from Party City, and it was $6.29 to inflate it with helium.
I modified Amy Moss’s invitation template and had them printed at FedEx Kinkos — so cute!
Post-dinner we loaded everything back into my car, then walked over to the Museum’s outdoor showing of Moonrise Kingdom. We packed dessert boxes for everyone in turquoise berry baskets with cinnamon sugar kettle corn, chocolate chip cookies, brownie bites, and gummy bears :) One other note on food preparation — if there was any dinner party to take food shortcuts on, this is it. All of these goodies were purchased from Whole Foods!
7. Roll with it. The weather. Oh me oh my the weather. There were a plethora of angsty text messages flying between my and John’s phones the day before and the day of our dinner party. Suffice it to say, we didn’t definitively call holding the party outside until about an hour before the arrival time, BUT the weather turned out to be beautiful! We had sun!!
Also, make sure you’re okay with attracting some attention. There were bike riders and walkers moving past our location, and at first I was a little self-conscious, but as soon as everyone arrived they faded into the background. Remember, they’re not judging you, they’re either curious or want to BE you! :)
Finally, be flexible. When we arrived at the park, we discovered that the entire field had been mowed, meaning our private circle was no more. We made a quick decision to relocate under the tree, and it worked out wonderfully.
8. Clean up. Leave your dining room for the night better than you found it. Duh.
Friends, what do you think? Would you host an adventure dinner party? Have you ever purchased a giant balloon? :)