How to Have a Classy Dinner Party on the Cheap

A dinner party is as much about the experience as it is about the food. It’s about getting friends together to enjoy a nice meal and some lovely company within the comfort of your own home (and minus the ridiculous cost of going out to dinner).

Here are some tips to help you put together a successful dinner party without spending a fortune:

Inviting Your Guests

Mailing out invitations, or even calling all of your guests personally, is not only time consuming, but it costs unnecessary money and isn’t, perhaps, the best way to get the details about your party out there. By inviting your guests electronically, you can easily manage the guest list, put vital information, like directions to your place, the theme of your party, what your guests should bring, in a visible forum. That way, for example, you won’t end up with 8 loaves of french bread at a potluck or have to give out directions 10 times. Here are some sites to try out:

  • Facebook: use Facebook to easily create an event and invite all of the guests you’d like. Then you can manage who’s coming, who’s not, what people should bring, and relay important information to all guests electronically. You can also send out messages to the group with directions to your house, updates, etc.
  • Punchbowl: this free site lets you send classy little online invitations in 3 simple steps.
  • Smilebox: if you want to send out personalized invitations with photos, videos and/or music, this is the site to try out.
  • Evite: create invitations for any kind of shindig, and also find part planning ideas, over at this helpful site.

Creating the Menu

Come Up With a Theme – and Stick to It!

Not only will a theme help you to maintain focus on all aspects of your dinner party; it will also help dictate what sorts of things your guests should bring. For instance, if you’re planning an Italian-style dinner, your guests could bring bruschette or some other appetizer that fits with the theme. And an inexpensive Italian wine might be a hit.

Then once you’ve picked a theme, the choices of the dishes you could make will be instantly narrowed down.

Also FYI, there are some amazing theme ideas over here at Divine Dinner Party.

Start With Ingredients You Have

Going out to the store and buying tons of ingredients for your dinner party isn’t going to save you any money. If you end up spending tons on the food, you may as well have gone out to dinner.

Think about preparing recipes either with ingredients you already have and/or ingredients you know you’ll use often even after the party.

Also, this ties into theme, but choosing meals that involve seasonal items could also save you a bundle.

Don’t Cook Something You’ve Never Tried Out Before

The worst time to try out a new recipe is when you’ve got the responsibility of providing a meal for a group of dinner guests. Not only will there be considerable stress involved – but you won’t know how the meal will taste until it’s time to serve everyone. Opt for a dish that you’ve made before to great success. That way, you won’t end up ordering pizza for disgruntled guests when your dish turns out sub-par.

Make it a Potluck

This might be a no-brainer, but it really is the best way to save money on your dinner party, and answer the question that’s bound to asked by most of your guests: “What should I bring?”

It’s most likely easiest to ask your guests to bring things that will compliment your main course, like appetizers, bread, wine or other drinks, and/or dessert. You can either create a list of things you need and assign them to certain guests, or you can leave the choice to them in a forum if you’ve invited guests online. Just ask them to stick with the theme and share what they plan to bring so you don’t end up with several of the same dishes/items.

Go Shopping

You’ll want to create a list of everything you’ll need to make your dinner. But also, leave room for variety in you list for things like fruits or veggies that may unexpectedly be on sale that fit with your meal/theme.

Also, don’t forget the non-foods items that are also essential for the party. Take note of things you’ll need to stock up on, like toilet paper, candles, napkins, etc.

The Main Event

Here are some places where you’ll find inexpensive yet delicious recipes to prepare:

Creating the Right Atmosphere

Bring Fine Dining to Your Home (on the Cheap)

It doesn’t cost much money to create a classy atmosphere in your home. More Style Than Cash has some great ideas, like creating mood lighting with candles or a dimmer, playing classical or jazz music (try a free Pandora station on your computer), having water glasses on the table in addition to whatever else you’re drinking, etc. But there are a lot of ways to create a sophisticated atmosphere for your dinner party.

Depending on the season, you could create a simple centerpiece out of a nice bowl and some freshly-cut flowers, pinecones, or some other easily-accessible seasonal item. Also, you can use cloth napkins and napkin rings to not only save money, but to add a classier feel to the table.

After Dinner Entertainment

Once you’ve taken care of the “dinner” portion of the evening, you’ll be able to focus more on the “party” part. This is where coffee and dessert can come out and you can maybe transition from the dining room to the living room. And it’s also the time to bust out those party games you have that you never play.

This could entail party games that don’t involve a board, like charades or fishbowl (check out the Entertainment section of my Planning a Party article, or it could mean busting out the deck of cards or a game like Apples to Apples or Pictionary. Either way, after some delicious dinner and perhaps a couple of glasses of wine, you’re all likely to get a kick out of playing a few party games and further enjoying each others’ company!

What are your best frugal ideas for a successful dinner party? Any great recipes and/or activities that you find lend particularly well to this kind of gathering? Please share your ideas with us in the comments section below. Thanks for being a Tip Hero!

Sources: The Kitchn, Wise Bread, Home Made Simple

Photo credit: anna.donlan