Friday, August 22, 2014

10 Tips to Throw an Inexpensive and Stylish Party

Levi and I entertain often and since I love to cook and hes a wonderful co-host, our home is always welcome to our friends.  We both are of the mind, we would rather host our friends than go out.

But Levi and I dont live in a large home or make a lot of money, but our parties often have 15-30 attendees, who are coupled or married, own their own homes, have children.  Yet, they keep coming back to our cozy 1 bedroom apartment as a source of entertainment-it becomes rather reminiscent of Holly Golightly.  During the year, I peruse the thrift stores in search of funky platters and glassware or anything I may add to the bar or table at the next event with the same goal in mind: throw an awesome party.

Over the last few years, I have noticed a new trend in party invitations-they include something to the effect of, BYOE, as in, Bring Your Own Everything!  For example, the invitation below:

This image was submitted by a reader of an actual invitation they received.
Invitations such as these are popping up all over the place.  I understand people still want to be hospitable to their friends, but asking them to bring everything is ridiculous.  So I'm going to take this opportunity to offer some help for those who are looking for new and better ways to entertain!

10 Tips to Throw an Inexpensive and Stylish Party

1. Don't ask your guests to fund the fun. BYO_ some items can be ok.  The trick is allowing for people to manage how much they want to invest financially.  BYOB is so commonplace anymore, people don't bat an eye.  In addition, at a BBQ, requesting people to help with a side item or appetizer is a great way to create some diversity to the menu, while allowing them the flexibility of finance. Sometimes that means that 3 people bring Buffalo Chicken Dip, and if that happens-its a good thing everyone likes dip!  

But then there are the few who decide to host a bonfire and request everyone to bring firewood.  Or other who request their guests to bring a side, beer and their own meat.  Sorry, but I might as well stay home.  If you cannot afford the most basic of party essentials-then you're not prepared to host a party.  And this quest is RSVPing 'No.'    

2. Lower your expectations. Too often we dissolution ourselves about how the party is going to unfold.  We decide that everyone who said maybe will end up coming or everyone is going to want to play bags.  You just never know how the party is going to work.  My best advice is: just let it happen, be ready with the game set up and always have a little extra food.  Its easy to be deceived by the RSVPs or the appeal of a game.   

Pro Tip: When it comes to RSVP's: 'yeses are maybes and maybes are nos'. 

3. Spring for the meat.  I know meat is expensive, but seriously-why are you having a party if you're making your guests supply the main course?  Its tacky and just grossly unacceptable to make that request of your guest.  This is the point I RSVP 'no'-I'd rather eat at home.  I frequently host 15-30 people and have never paid more than $30 for meat and always have leftovers.  There are ways to inexpensively handle a main course on a budget: A. Often the local butcher will have a special going where you can buy a variety pack at a deal.  B. Look for sales. C. Shop managers specials the Wednesday prior, when the store is trying to get rid of 'older' cuts. D. Buy in bulk at Costco or Sam's. E. Mix it up by making something bigger with the meat like jambalaya or chili.  

4. The Dollar Store is your best friend.  Are you loving those tiny plastic silver appetizer forks at the party store? Dollar Store sells them in packs of 24.  Need a platter?  They have them in a variety of sizes.  Hosting a dinner and need 2 more wine glasses?  The dollar store has them!  Even if you're not hosting a party anytime soon-its really helpful to do a walk-thru of your local DS so you are prepared for the next event!  
*Pro-Tip: Avoid getting your paper plates and plastic cups at the DS.  The best deal for those are your local super-store in the ziplock bag and saran wrap isle! 

5. Go seasonal.  Typically the party you're hosting is seasonally-related anyway, but keeping a seasonal menu can help save you a lot of money-in the store or otherwise!  I host a BBQ every summer that coordinates with a local beer festival.  It also falls on a great time to harvest the garden at my mom's-so the entire menu is planned around what I've pulled from the garden!  If this is not an option for you, allow yourself to be vague about the menu and give yourself permission to change your mind.  I cant tell you how many times I've done a complete menu change based off what the deals of the week were!

6. Never assign a dollar amount to your festivities!  This is my #1 pet-peeve for party invitations!  I hate it when people tell me how much to spend to come over.  If you want people to bring a side dish, let them choose which one they want to bring.  If they ask, make a few reasonable suggestions.  Sometimes I'll even tell them what other people are bringing, so they can work around that.  If you're asking for them to bring beer, let them choose the brand. 

7. Have a theme.  A theme is a great way to spice up any party!  It doesn't have to be over-thought: football, BBQ, Christmas-are all great themes.  Its something that gives people reason to come and also can create a wonderful variety of food and drink!  People like a little direction-cater to that a bit.

8. Have a few tricks up your sleeve/Backup Plan.  I typically do a few things to prepare for those 'worst case scenarios' which include, but are not limited to: running out of food, running out of toilet paper or everyone bringing the same thing.  Always keep a pack of hot dogs in the freezer and a box of pasta salad in the pantry.  They're inexpensive and can be made up quickly.  I'm friends with my neighbor and I know if we ever run out of toilet paper she will be willing to share in a pinch (although I do always stock up prior).  If I'm asking my guests to bring sides or appetizers, I typically have a few 'plants' in my guest list.  I privately ask the single males to bring tortilla chips-so we don't run out or my other friend to bring her 'signature' dish that is always a crowd-pleaser.  Sometimes people ask me what kind of booze they should bring (more common in the winter months) and I usually ask for them for something semi-specific, like vodka.  Let them pick the brand-remember, never dictate how much people should spend to come to your party.

9. Thats what friends/family are for.  I come from a family of women who love to entertain.  So everyone has stuff they have accumulated over time for a party.  I borrow punch bowls, folding chairs, tablecloths, crockpots, etc.  There is no harm in asking your friends, as long as you remember to invite them too!

10. Grab things throughout the year.  As I am a regular host, I often have the next event not far from thought.  So when I'm out and about in May and see something that would be perfect for my Halloween party-I'll buy it.  Garage sales and thrift stores are wonderful places to stop-in on occasion if you're looking for something specific at a bargain.  Eliminate the 'its not for 6 months' mentality.  If you know you're going to use it-get it!

Did I miss something?  Share your best party tips in the comments section!

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