When you have more friends than cash, there are still lots of low-cost ways to make a dinner party at your house something to look forward to -- and remember. After all, when you think back on the best parties you've ever attended, was it really the china and silverware you remember? Let's take a look at a few ways to craft a party that will wow your guests without emptying your bank account.
Start planning early. One of the best free resources you can have for preparing a dinner party is time. With enough time at your disposal, you can source the best food bargains, stock up on beverages and liquor, borrow items like serving pieces and stemware, and come up with ways to make the party easy and convenient for everyone involved. Rushed preparation is the enemy of a good party, so start planning now.
Make plenty of lists. Dinner parties can be a blast, but there are lots of details to consider. If you're the kind of person who thinks things will just take care of themselves, you're in for a surprise. Making lists is one sure way to stay on top of the proceedings and dodge a bullet or two. From making sure you've sent everyone directions to your house to remembering to stow the pets until the party's over, lists can be a big help.
Give the table extra attention. People eat with their eyes as well as their taste buds, so don't underestimate the power of a dazzling table. You don't need expensive elements, but do work to create ambience with fresh flowers, candles and a nice tablecloth. Experiment with table layouts until you find something that has flair and works with your décor. Even if the tableware is mismatched, making everything look special will definitely add flavor to whatever food you're serving. Layering place mats over a tablecloth can create a pulled-together look that's more about the linens than the quality of your cutlery. Have fun with color and texture, too. Employing a theme like Summer Daze, School's Out or Fabulous Fall will get you in the mood to party and give you an inspirational boost at the same time.
If you have family and friends who'll chip in, be shameless about borrowing items from them. Most folks only use the good stuff a few times a year. They'll probably be generous about lending you a few pieces.
Add some music. Having some appropriate music playing in the background creates a party-like atmosphere. The volume level is up to you, but keeping it low enough to promote conversation -- at least during dinner -- is a good idea. If you want to give stragglers a hint that the party is drawing to a close, turn off the mood music for a tasteful but clear clue that it's time to say goodnight. You don't need a state of the art sound system for this one; tuning in to your favorite radio station will even work in a pinch.
Provide plenty of seating. Whether you're planning a potluck, sit-down dinner or buffet service, always make sure there are plenty of places for people to chat, nosh and enjoy the flow of conversation. If you're entertaining at your first ever apartment, people will understand your employing a few mismatched chairs a lot more easily than they'll accept not having somewhere to sit down comfortably.
Plan the ins and outs. Traffic flow can get convoluted if you don't strategize how people will get around your space, especially if your home is small. Guests will need somewhere to place their coats and have open access to the dining area, bathroom and exits. The easier it is to mingle and meander, the happier people will be.
Ask guests to bring their own alcohol. One of the biggest dinner party expenses is the alcohol. One way to avoid sticker shock when you're stocking up the liquor cabinet is to specify that you'll be offering non-alcoholic options like punch or soda, but guests are welcome to bring their preferred alcoholic beverages along.
Keep the menu simple. A good dinner party is made up of a number of elements. If you can't afford to serve filet mignon, it's not a tragedy. The company and hospitality will go a long way toward making your party a success. In fact, keeping the menu simple will help contain costs and make prep easier and less stressful for you. It's easy to want the menu for your dinner party to be a showstopper, but when it comes to entertaining, keeping things simple is the most goof-proof option.
Go light on the appetizers. Appetizers aren't the big event of your meal, but the price can sure be through the roof for things like salmon, pâté and cheese. If you offer a simple vegetable platter instead of expensive and fat-laden options, weight-conscious guests will thank you, and everyone will have more room and enthusiasm for the main meal.
Speak to your audience. If your dinner party guests are business associates, the evening will be a bit more subdued than if you've invited your old college sorority friends. Incorporate music, décor items, food and beverages that speak to the guest list. This doesn't mean you can't add people from different sectors of your life if you think they'll have something to contribute to the whole. Just use some common sense. A layered nacho platter and Buffalo wings might be an economical finger food option for a Super Bowl party, but that particular menu will probably not work so well if you're inviting your fiancée's parents over for the first time.
Meet and greet with gusto. As the host, your participation is important. You'll be expected to greet guests and perform introductions. You'll also be in charge of keeping the conversational ball rolling. You can't do this well if you're spending all your time in the kitchen. Even if you're a cohost in charge of the preparations, you should be visible and voluble. The friendly atmosphere that comes from being a happy host is worth a fortune -- but costs you nothing. So, get out there and mingle!
Do as much as you can ahead of time. If you don't have hired help or volunteers in the kitchen, do everything you can ahead of time. This includes making dishes, setting the table, prepping the beverage service area and anticipating your guests' needs. Plan the evening in your head, plot your strategy and get all the chores done before the doorbell starts ringing.
On the big day, it's easy to get involved in the small stuff and forget to experience the moment. If you've planned ahead, you'll be prepared for a memorable party. Entertaining is like performance art -- never the same twice. While everyone is enjoying your hospitality, take the time to savor your success.