Entertaining on a Budget

With our economy in a state that most of us have never experienced before, new perspectives and approaches are being applied to everything – even the average dinner party!  While our clients used to ask for the recipes to my most fabulous gourmet cuisines, they now approach me consistently asking where they can save money on their next business lunch, cocktail hour, or overall entertainment budget.

From the business perspective, my first thought is not to fall into the “dinner” trap.  Dinner is perfectly appropriate for great clients, or potential new ones…but so is lunch!  More and more people are appreciating their time at home with their families and are open to the idea of meeting during the day.  Plus the obvious upside is that lunch can be as little as half what a dinner would cost.  Many times, catching up over tea or coffee can even be appropriate, as well.  Use your judgment on a case-by-case basis.  The idea is not to look cheap, but not to go overboard either.  Clients respect the economy and situation most businesses are in, and conservative spending is expected.

As far as a personal dinner party is concerned, the audience you are catering to becomes much more important.  Looking to just have a few close friends over?  Get them involved by having a pot luck, or requesting guests to bring beverages.  As long as it’s made clear before-hand, there is nothing rude about having guests pitch in – most of the time they are happy to help and feel satisfied that they contributed.

If, on the other hand, you choose to be the gracious host, here’s a few tips to save on your ingredients and preparation:

  • Start with a budget first, then decide the number of guests to invite.  Typically, $5-$10 per guest is plenty for a reasonable meal.
  • Where you buy can really determine a lot.  Ethnic markets and farmer’s markets are by and large much cheaper than the average grocery store when it comes to fresh meats and produce.
  • Carb load your guests!  It may be against the Atkins diet, but serving a nice whole wheat pasta or potato-based dish can be delicious, filling, and cost effective.

Remember, expensive is not necessarily the best route.  Many times just adding a gourmet touch to a meal can be more effective than killing yourself over an extravagant recipe.  Enjoy yourself and your company, and entertain deliciously!