Thursday, October 27, 2016

Budget Friendly Holiday Parties: 8 Ways To Save On Food And Drinks

The other day I shared a story about the Holiday party that changed all future parties to come. It was festive. The food was incredible. The guests went home happy. You'd think from a hostess perspective I'd be doing a successful-holiday-party dance. Nope. On my end, this holiday party was a disaster. I promised myself that I would never put myself in that position again.

Over the years, and through a lot of trial and tribulations, I've learned how to throw a budget friendly holiday party that I can enjoy with our guests and not feel as if I need a vacation in the days to follow.

There's lots of ground to cover so I decided to break this into several posts. This time around, I'm covering the highlight of all parties. Food and drink. I've been hosting parties for over 20 years. Food and drink is the quintessential center of all parties. The best conversations happen over good food and wine and spirits. Most of the parties we host are small. We gather around the table. Eat. Drink. Talk. Laugh. Get silly.

Memories are made.

It doesn't matter how big or small your party is. The bulk of your expense will be food and drink. Over the past couple of decades, I've learned how to greatly reduce the amount of money we spend on food and drink. The process in itself has been quite enlightening.

1. Plan your menu ahead of time. The moment you let people know you're hosting a party, plan the menu. On our end, it's usually about 2-3 ahead of time. That gives us plenty of time to scan the sales and coupons at our local grocery stores. Once the menu is etched in granite, make a list of all ingredients you'll need. As items go on sale, grab 'em whether it's butter, eggs, meat, crackers, etc. Yes, this may require a few trips to the grocery store, but if you wait last minute to buy everything, you're going to spend a lot more than you need to.

2. As people to bring something. It took me many years to get comfortable asking people to bring a dish, appetizer, or wine. However, during this learning process, I've discovered people love to contribute. Guests take pride in bringing a favorite dish, a prized appetizer, or a dessert that is symbolic and sentimental to them. Or, they may have a wine preference that varies from your own. Variety leads to trying new things and makes for great conversations to follow.

3. Say yes. If you're not comfortable asking your guests to bring a favorite dish or appetizer, when they ask if they can bring something, say yes. More than likely, they'll ask, "What can I bring? What do you need?" Refer to your menu. How about a cheese platter or chips and dip? Once you establish what others are bringing, you can cross those items off your menu list.

4. Have a contest. In the past, when I've occasionally held a party for a large group of people of 15 or more, I've held a contest for the best appetizer or party themed plate. The inspiration for this happened years ago, I attended a Christmas party. The host had a contest for the best Christmas themed appetizer. The prize basket was filled with homemade treats, a pound of gourmet coffee, festive mugs, and a $10 gift card to Starbucks. Abut 30 people attended the party. There were almost that many entries. The guests voted. Bottom line, the hosts of the party spent about $25 on the prize basket. In return, they didn't have to make or spend money on a single appetizer. Money saved. Time saved. Everyone had FUN participating.

5. Bring your own booze. There is no shame in asking guests to bring their own booze. I've learned that everyone has their own preference of spirits, beer, and wine. We always provide water, juice, soda, coffee, or tea. And, we always have extra of adult beverages that we drink on hand. No one has ever complained about bringing their preferred beer or wine to drink. Ever. In fact, a lot of guests will bring a bottle or two of wine to share. I add those to what I have provided and guest help themselves. It gives people the opportunity to try and fall in love with a new wine.

6. Go meatless. Meat is expensive, especially seafood. It's not mandatory that you serve steak tips and seared salmon with mango salsa. Personally, I love to cook. It's a passion of mine. My preferred ingredients are meatless. I can make a world of appetizers and dishes without using meat. No one complains. I don't even think the guests notice. They're too busy enjoying stuffed mushrooms and homemade bread sticks dipped in an Alfredo sauce I whipped up shortly before the party. You can find inspiration for meatless dishes and appetizers on Pinterest or the thousands of recipe sites out there in the virtual world.

7. Potluck! Potluck! Potluck! I absolutely love potluck gatherings. When Lisa and I got married in 2012, we had a backyard barbecue, potluck style feast. Hands down, it was incredible and everyone enjoyed foods from various cultures, old family recipes, and desserts made with lots of love. For those who are not comfortable asking guests to bring a dish or appetizer or saying "yes" when a guest asks if they can bring something, potluck is the way to go. When the word potluck precedes the words breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it means "participants bring various foods to be shared." Need I say  more?

8. Be adventurous. Embrace the tried and true and try new things. As a cook and baker, I've learned a lot of things over the years. At the top of my list is that the most delicious foods don't require a lot of time or money. When hosting a party, sift through those old handwritten family recipes. Or, search Pinterest for inspiration. People love to share recipes. Most times, the recipes from our great-grandmothers and the simplest of comfort foods are the ones guests enjoy the most. If you want to jazz things up a bit, add a modern twist or two. You can experiment without altering the recipe too much.

Give it a try. Have fun. Save money and time. And, happy hosting!

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