Dinner parties can sound intimidating! I struggle to get dinner on the table for myself most evenings, and now I’m signing up to make a dinner (maybe with multiples courses) for my friends. I have good news for you, dinner parties are not as difficult as you would have imagined and are probably twice as fun. This dinner party 101 series will be walking you through the basics of hosting your very first dinner party painlessly.
First topic on the agenda is the budget. Dinner parties can range from $5 per person to $200+ per person. I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t afford to spend 2,000 dollars on one dinner with 10 of my closest friends! However, you can certainly do dinner on a budget and still make it feel special!
1. Guest Count
The first thing that really effects your costs when you are hosting any event with food is how many people will be there, eating your food. I find that the ideal number is between 8-12 people. This allows for a crowd that is lively enough to keep conversations moving, but still allows you to speak with all your guests throughout the night.
2. To Potluck or Not
One option to drastically reduce the cost of hosting a dinner party is to host a potluck style party. By hosting a potluck you cut costs by asking guests to bring some element of the dinner, however you can end up with a lot different dishes that don’t make sense together (I have a blog post on how to host a perfect potluck coming soon). I typically won’t go with a potluck in the purest sense for a dinner party (mostly because I like planning and being in control of my menu), but you can certainly ask your guests to bring some elements to your dinner party like drinks or desserts.
3. Pick your menu
Once you have your guest count and you’ve decided what (if anything) you want your guests to bring, it’s time to pick the menu. Since food will most likely be the biggest expense for your dinner party, this is really where you need to figure out how much you want to spend.
If you are doing a meat, that will most likely be the largest cost. Things like chicken or ground meat will be on the more affordable end of the spectrum and you could also go very spendy with seafood or prime rib. As a general rule, you should budget about ½ pound of meat for every person, if meat is the focus of your meal. If meat is more of an accessory (like a pasta dish) you can get away with a little less.
4. Do it for the aesthetics
I love a pretty tablescape (I have a whole pinterest board dedicated to them), but you don’t need to have matching set of 12 plates and silverware (with dessert forks) to host a dinner party. Use what you have! If you don’t have enough plates for everyone, head to your local thrift store and pick out a set of plates. They definitely don’t need to be the same plate, but keeping them in the same color and general size will keep the table looking cohesive. Another option is to go the rentals route. Party rental can be a good option if want something a little fancier. Most party rental stores will rent out plates and silverware for a couple dollars a place setting and you can usually go pick up your order from the warehouse, so you aren't having to pay hundreds in delivery fees for a dozen plates.
As far as the centerpiece, place cards, and other extras go, you can go as crazy or as simple as you’d like. We love all the extra details that make a party special, but if you’re not into that just get some Trader Joes flowers and stick them in a mason jar.
This is another element of your dinner party that can get expensive quickly! Don’t feel like you have to have a full bar. I think its typically best to offer 1-2 alcoholic drink choices and 1 non-alcoholic (even if that is just some La Croix). I prefer to do either wine or a big batch cocktail that I can make before guest arrive and have available for guests for guests to refill throughout the evening. As a general rule of thumb, you should have about 1 bottle of wine for every 2 guests and 2-3 cocktail drinks per person. But you know your friends best! Adjust these amounts if you know they are big drinkers, or if they are more the type of crowd to sip on one cocktail all night long.
Here is a sample budget based on a classic summer dinner party (this menu was inspired by Elizabeth from the College Housewife ) for 10 guests. Costs are based in average prices in my area. These costs can vary from region to region and from season to season.