Tips for entertaining on a budget

A do-it-yourself mentality has taken over garden and home decorating trends – and now it’s moving into the kitchen. While many of us have been entertaining at home for years, more and more people are looking for ways to bring family and friends together at home –instead of going out.

And that’s where the expertise of a caterer comes into play. From books like the Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen by Nicole Aloni to a recent article in the Kansas City Star, there are several resources to tap into.

“Experienced entertainers know how to stretch every dollar, potato and parsley leaf.” – Lynsy Smithson-Stanley, Caterers Share Low-Cost Party Ideas, Kansas City Star.

If you’re having family or friends over, try some of these surefire tips:
  • Less than 10 people, serve a sit-down meal
  • More than 10, try a buffet
  • Skip appetizers for a sit-down meal – instead offer a few small nibbles like nuts or olives and end your one-course meal with a light dessert
  • Pork and chicken are economical, flavorful and highly adaptable choices
  • Use at least one inexpensive vegetable in bulk (like potatoes, leafy greens or cabbage) then bring in more expensive vegetables or fruits as flavorful garnish
  • Large pots of soup or chili can be easy, elegant and enjoyed by a crowd
  • Pick a main dish for the buffet that has lots of interaction and ways for your guests to make it their own – like a taco bar, quesadillas, grilled pizzas, a Vietnamese soup like pho, etc.
  • For a cocktail party, plate small. Try serving a cold soup in a shot glass, have small plates with one to two bites already plated, make small skewers of one to two bites and plate them or put into a small glass with sauce on the bottom, etc.
  • Plan your appetizer buffet to include a variety of tastes, textures and temperatures.
  • Make your own crostinis – simply slice a baguette and toast – they can be topped hundreds of ways
  • Hand-roast nuts and mix up the flavors – from savory herb blends and cracked peppercorns to saucy or sweet creations, many guest will enjoy these nibbles – just put out/refill a few bowls at a time
  • Create a custom cocktail or feature a vintage/retro cocktail that fits with your theme – this can control costs
  • Offer a small, one to two bite dessert that can be served in a spoon, a small demitasse cup, champagne flute, etc.
  • For seasonal drinks, try offering sangria when it’s warm out or mulled wine when it’s cold – both offer an opportunity to ‘fix-up’ an inexpensive wine with spices and fruits

Tips for serving and decorating . . .

  • Try picking up small, ceramic or terracotta tiles from the home improvement store for serving or displaying candles
  • Use petals for scattered and random flower power on tables or serving dishes; find inexpensive napkins at the dollar store and starch them – I’ve had good luck finding seasonal packs of linen or cotton kitchen towels (decorative kind) that work great as an extravagant napkin
  • Put your menu on display – for sit down dinners print a pretty copy (can usually fit two to four per page) and place with the napkin and for larger events frame a copy of the menu at the buffet

GE 4/17/09 Leave a Comment
Gina Edwards is a cooking instructor and editor of

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