Simple tips for eating, drinking and dancing al fresco inspired by our event at Hay
There’s nothing like eating outdoors with friends and family, despite the British weather - in fact, we rather relish the challenge. To celebrate the Hay literary festival, Soho House hosted a dinner in the grounds of festival founder Revel Guest’s stunning Welsh estate. Renee Williams is responsible for organizing the party, from the tent to the entertainment and, of course, the food and drink. Here she shares her expert tips for pulling off an al fresco event tent like a pro.
"The Soho House/Hay aesthetic is rustic and relaxed. We like to take into consideration the surroundings when styling and ‘dress for the occasion’, in this case making the view stand out as a feature. We wouldn’t style as rustic as this in a grand venue, but as we’re in a traditional rope and pole tent on a farm, the barn-style trestle tables, bunting and vintage wooden chairs work.
"If you’re serving food BMF style [Soho House speak for 'Bring Me Food' where large platters are placed on the tables for diners to help themselves], then dress the table with your plates before the guests arrive – it fills the table and makes a great platform for napkins, menus or any other items you want to dress with. We think a BMF style dinner creates a great sense of community and encourages guests to interact with each other. Keep it natural – let the flowers and the colours of the food on the plates do the talking. Try not to style things like flowers and candles too uniformly – random is best. Personally, I think long tables are always better and make for a more interesting evening than rounds if you can fit them."
Rustic and relaxed
"I think the juxtaposition of vintage and/or rustic items against excellent quality items and details like the napkins, cutlery and crockery make an event quintessentially Soho House. Cute little details like the hand stamped menu add the finishing touch."
Prepare for the evening chill
"If you’re in a tent, try to warm the space as much as possible before the guests arrive. Be prepared for the cold – provide guests with shawls or have a brazier burning outside where they can warm up. It’s all about the atmosphere – keep the lights dim and the tables close together for more of a community feel. Flames add a touch of magic to an evening, so don’t be scared to use candles and bamboo torches in abundance."
"We always choose wild, whimsical and heavily scented flowers with bright pops of colour, and lots of foliage. We want them to look as though they have been hand-picked from the garden. We use a fantastic local supplier who has her own cutting garden and she drops the un-arranged flowers off to us in the morning. We have loads of fun arranging them into unstructured arrangements in the vintage glassware. We don’t think flowers should be picked in vain so always make sure they go to good homes after the events to be enjoyed for as long as possible."
Seasonal and local
"We like to take into consideration the provenance of ingredients, so we can use as many local suppliers as possible. We had Wye valley asparagus and Welsh lamb and cheeses on the menu as well as traditional Welsh cakes to celebrate where we had come together. As with the flowers, the food should provide plenty of colour on the table, especially in the Spring/Summer months when fresh produce and herbs are in abundance. Be generous. It goes without saying that the drinks should be flowing."
"Always make sure you are working with trusted suppliers where important things like power, lighting and sound are involved. Go through EVERY DETAIL over and over with suppliers so they can understand your vision and deliver on time and on budget. Although a cliché, I like to expect the best but prepare for the worst… ALWAYS have a plan B where the weather is concerned (umbrellas at the very least), especially in Wales!"
"We wanted to create a bit of a festival vibe to reflect the Hay Festival happening down the road – so we did this with strings of festoon lights. Make sure any lighting you bring on board is on dimmers so you can adjust the atmosphere as the night progresses – when it’s time for dancing, keep the music UP and the lighting DOWN. Twinkling candles always add a touch of magic – don’t be shy to use them everywhere."