How to Host an Unforgettable Dinner Party on a Budget, According to Jessica Nguyen

Hosting a dinner party can be a stressful event. Understandably, you want the food to be delicious and sitting on a beautiful tablescape, and for everyone to have a fabulous time. The goal is to have everyone walk away from the soirée feeling happy, satisfied, and impressed by your efforts.

But when your budget is limited it can make things feel particularly stressful. It need not be this way though! You can absolutely still host a wonderful event without forking out your hard earned cash.

We called upon Australian home cook and Put on a Spread alumni Jessica Nguyen, to share her top tips for hosting a dinner party on a budget while still making it an unforgettable affair. 

How to Host a Dinner Party on a Budget

1. Delegate the cooking

Delegate one of the courses to a guest to minimise stress and pocket strings. It then becomes one less thing you have to think about, and is easy for other people to pick up and provide as their contribution.

I usually delegate dessert or a snack/entree to a guest as it’s something they can pick up or make to bring over, be it a beautifully baked cake, some delicious cheeses, or a tray of freshly shucked oysters to have before dinner.  

2. Use seasonal ingredients

When thinking about what to cook, try to incorporate as many in season ingredients as possible, which are usually cheaper, fresher and delicious. Also do an audit of your fridge and pantry and try to use those up in your dishes before planning to buy more ingredients.

3. Opt for big pot, slow cooked dishes

Big pot, slow cooked dishes will feed a crowd for less or even my Egg Fried Rice. They generally use second rate cuts of protein which are cheaper and with a bit of love and time, they’re guaranteed crowd pleasers.

You can prep these the day before and make a large quantity, more than needed for the dinner party, which you can then freeze as leftovers and enjoy for future dinners, saving you more time and money!

4. Drink your best bottle first

Wine doesn't have to cost a fortune and there’s no need to splurge on it. Your local wine store will be able to recommend some great choices within your budget, but if you do want to get one really good bottle for the party (e.g. champagne), my mantra is drink your best bottle of wine first, because you won’t remember the last!

If your budget doesn’t allow for wine, this is something you can delegate to guests asking each one to bring a different wine/spirit to match your menu.

5. Use a tablecloth

If you have to purchase one item to transform a table, buy a tablecloth. Opt for the Bed Thread’s tablecloth in White if you want something that will suit all occasions, otherwise go for a bold color like Turmeric or Olive if you want to make a statement and inject color into your dinner party and space.

6. Single stem flowers

To save money on florals, opt for single stem flowers in small vases spaced out on the table. Even better, pick some flowers from your garden or ask your neighbours if you can snip some of theirs.

In terms of arrangements, small and low are the most economical and engaging as they won’t obstruct your guests line of sight as they speak to each other across the table, plus always keep plenty of space for the food on the table, which should take precedence over floral flourishes.

7. Go the produce route

If not florals, opt for in season fruit and vegetables to decorate the table. A bowl of lemons, a small jar filled with herbs, something from your garden can be just as impactful as flowers and if you want to be even more intentional about them, you can strategically choose fruits and vegetables to display that you can then cook with in the food you’re serving. Otherwise, re-use them for your meals later that week.

8. Use secondhand serveware

You don’t need to invest in all new and matching crockery, serveware and glassware. Op-shops and places like Gumtree are perfect for finding very affordable vases, platters, vintage plates and funky glassware.

Some of my favorite pieces are items I’ve collected from op shops. Also don’t be afraid to mix and match odd glassware, plates or even cutlery if you don’t have enough of the same for each guest, which can make your table more interesting and personal.

9. Create a playlist

A usually overlooked component of a table setting is the sensory and sound aspect, and a curated playlist costs nothing to pull together. Create a shared playlist that your friends can also contribute and add in their favorite songs, which will guarantee everyone will love a song on the playlist and enjoy the night. Set the mood with some candles, and dim the lights.

Enjoyed this? Here's A Beginner's Guide to Hosting a Stress-Free Dinner Party

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