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Host A Dinner Party Dining On A Shoestring Budget

Couple at a Diner Party

As the economy continues to stifle the weekly food budgets of many, dinner parties are quickly becoming out of the question for most social-savvy hosts. However, it seems that with the popularity of Brit Channel 4′s Come Dine with Me, having a humble home and a cut-price menu is becoming the rule rather than the exception of today’s party host. Even the Middletons are getting in on Briton’s love of lots for less. The Telegraph reported that “the Duchess of Cambridge’s mother, who has moved elegantly up the social ladder during her lifetime, from a council flat in Southall to luncheons at Windsor Castle with the Queen, is now giving others the chance to prove their qualities as a hostess. She and her husband, Michael Middleton, have bought the rights to merchandise based on the Channel 4 show Come Dine with Me.” The party packs priced at a sensible £8.99 contain place cards and badges for eight diners and give any party the ‘wow’ factor.

Anyone’s who has ever hosted a dinner party know that the costs can quickly spiral in the quest to impress with the very best. Factor in fine food, flowers, tableware and wine and you’ll soon find you’ve saved nothing, and often you’ll find that you could in fact have dined out rather splendidly for the same amount. But with a few simple considerations, you can put on an elegant event to please guests, hosts and purses.

Little mis-match

Table DecorationMatching, formal tableware is as dated as matching your shoes to your handbag. Today, home styling is all about mixing things up. So don’t stress if you don’t have sufficient numbers of identical items or a fancy tablecloth – choose your prettiest plates and glasses, quirkiest cutlery, and use printed textiles like printed cotton throws or sarongs as table coverings.

Look at lifestyle magazines for inspiration and hit the high street. Pound shops are great for novelty napkins and lacy doilies, candles, and fancy plastic glassware. Scout out cheap fabric off-cuts, scour charity shops for chintzy crockery. Your ingenious improvised creativity is guaranteed to be a real conversation starter.

Get a Lidl savvy

Get into the habit of keeping an eye on weekly deals at the deep-discount stores like Lidl, Aldi and Netto. Every weekend, a selection of items are sold at shockingly low prices and are well worth stocking up on and storing or freezing for later use. Be flexible, if you were planning a beef stew but chicken is cheap, go with it. No-one need know the menu change was merely to net you a bargain.

It’s also useful to discover which lines are good at each of these retailers. They often sell an own-brand take on a big brand favourite, and they’re usually pretty decent. You’ll also find unusual speciality items like Italian antipasti and liqueurs at Aldi and German deli items and cheese at Lidl. These ranges get even more interesting when it comes to festive food. Stash a selection of unusual continental sweets and treats for a decadent post-prandial treat on the cheap.

Potluck feast

Share the load. Set a theme and budget and get all guests to bring something to contribute to the feast, whether it’s a homemade dish or some fancy patisserie. A potluck is a fun way to make everyone feel included in the evening, and each course will provide plenty of food for thought.

If you’re intent on doing it all yourself and your guests are close friends or family, don’t be afraid to ask them to chip in with ingredient costs or bring a bottle of wine – almost everyone’s in the same boat financially nowadays, and face it – you’re all saving on a pricey evening out!

Free recipes

The popularity of apps, e-readers, 24-hour online culture, and blogging has yielded an absolute feast of diverse, free-to-access recipes for every dish conceivable, whilst free-to-download planning and budgeting software allows you to pull off the perfect evening hassle- and cost-free.

And you can forget cookbooks covered in spatters and stains – interactive tools are available to guide you through dish preparation with mess-free, voice activated video guidance.

Take stock of existing store-cupboard

Before you hit the shops, open the cupboards and do a comprehensive stock take. You probably already have the makings of a meal without needing to hit the high street. Use a dinner party as the opportunity to use up dried pulses and grains, tinned veggies and jars or sauces and condiments – particularly those items that aren’t favoured by your family.

Use those jars of niche items gathering dust to liven up basic dishes, a simple rice pilaf can become stunning drizzled with pomegranate molasses and strewn with a colourful mix of leftover seeds, nuts and dried fruit. And don’t forget to raid the freezer.

Spin your supper

If in doubt, call it a concept. Pretend you’re Heston Blumenthal, the British king of molecular cuisine, for a night and delight your diners by telling them how austerity chic is ‘oh so now’; restaurant chefs the world over are presenting single-ingredient dishes at Michelin establishments, such as a seared cauliflower steak on a puddle of puree.

Spin the spoils out over a succession of smaller dishes, or serve a single family-style main. One-pot dinners and many tempting morsels are equally chic. It’s tempting to be overgenerous with portions at home, but a bit of restraint pays dividends when it comes to elegant plating.

Try to always leave your guests pleasantly replete and wanting more, rather than waddling home wishing for less. But whichever way you go, remember – it’s all in the way you spin it.

Featured images:
  • Couple at Diner Party License: Royalty Free or iStock source:
  • Table Decoration License: Royalty Free or iStock source:

Kitty Hastings is a journalist from London with experience reporting on home economics, food, fashion and thrives on sharing tips on how to balance your budget both inside and outside the house. Kitty’s articles appear in a wide range of publications both in print and online – and she loves nothing more than relaxing with a cup of tea and a great book and adores anything vintage.

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