Feeding a Crowd On The Cheap
1. Plan your menu
Here are some things to look at when planning your menu:
- Number of people attending.
If you are hosting a graduation party at your house and plan to invite all your family and friends…I wouldn't recommend serving steak. However, if you are hosting a dinner party with 2 of your best couple friends then sure, steak is a little more reasonable. HERE is a great resource for finding out how much to make per person you will be serving. TIP: Always ask for an RSVP by a certain date so you can get an accurate number. Doing it via text, facebook, or email will get you the most results. People hate having to call!
- Time of day you will be entertaining.
Time of day is a HUGE determining factor for what you should prepare. There is NOTHING worse than going to a shower at 12:30 and only getting a few finger desserts to eat. Here's a chart to help determine what you should serve:
So, if your party goes from 9:30-11am, that would mostly fall under the “light snacks” rule. if your party goes from 6pm-8pm, that mostly falls under the “full dinner” rule. If your party is from 11:30am – 1pm, that mostly falls under “full lunch” rule. See how that works?
Another thing to keep in mind with time of day is that people will eat and drink more at night than during the day, so plan appropriately.
- Variety… More = less.
Take a dessert party for example. If you have more variety of desserts, people will eat less of each and will be satisfied with smaller bites. If you have a dessert party with 3 cakes and nothing else, you should cut big slices and expect them to be wiped out. But if you have smaller cakes, cookies, pastries, cake bites, brownie bites, and other small things, you can serve less of each and make much smaller portions because there is more variety.
With anything in life, setting a budget is key. Decide early what you are willing to spend and base your menu around it. Believe it or not, it's quite easy to do a party for cheap or even free. Potluck, BYOM BBQ, dessert party, even a pasta party all can be done for only a few dollars.
- Age of attendees and seating situation.
If it's a bachelor party, I probably wouldn't do a salad bar…maybe stick more to a hearty BBQ. If it's a baby shower, maybe I'd avoid chicken wings and focus on a lighter menu. Just keep your attendees in mind so the food is fitting!
- Time of year.
Baked potato bars, soup bars, and pasta bars are perfect for winter months. Salad bars and BBQ's are perfect for Spring and Summer. Potlucks are great all year. Just consider what's in season, and what time of year it is.
2. Get ShoppingSee “how I grocery shop” for a full rundown on how I save 1/2 on my groceries (without clipping coupons!) .
Here are some quick tips for keeping your grocery bill down when shopping for a party:
- Stock up on things you can keep on-hand.
Throughout the year, watch the sales! If you see condiments go on sale, stock up. Same with chips, paper plates, napkins, drinks, and other pantry items. This also goes for anything you can freeze (cheese, tortillas, meat, etc.).
- Use what you have.
Before running to the store, open your fridge, freezer, cupboards, and pantry and use what you have! This goes for decorations, too. Trust me…you'll save A TON of money if you simply get creative with what you already have.
- Plan your menu around what's on sale.
The week of your party, keep an eye on the ads and use it to influence your menu. I use www.dealstomeals.com to see what's on sale in my area that week, and to print a shopping list straight from that site. I then take the list and price-match it all at Walmart so I get all the store's best prices, and only make 1 stop. For more details about this read HERE. Regardless of how you do it, just keep an eye on the sales for that week. If Coke products are on sale that week, buy those instead of Pepsi products. If Heinz ketchup is cheaper than Hunts, buy Heinz. That alone will save you TONS.
- Buy bulk.
Buying bulk will save you tons of money when cooking for a crowd! I prefer shopping at Costco, personally, but even grocery stores have bulk sections. See my list of things that I buy from Costco HERE. I avoid buying cutesy plates and cups, they are WAY more expensive. Rather, I stick to the bulk plates and cups and dress up my party in other ways. See below for ideas.
- Be smart. Plan ahead. Don't go crazy.
You don't need to serve gourmet ketchup at your BBQ, just buy whatever is cheapest. Don't just shoot from the hip and buy 8 heads of lettuce for your taco bar unless you know for certain that it's exactly how much you need. Waste not, be reasonable, and don't go crazy! 🙂
3. Accessories & must-haves
Accessories make the outfit. In my opinion, that's the same with a party! Whether it's functional must-have's or little touches that give a party some POP!, here are some accessories that I recommend for feeding a crowd:
- Pick a color scheme.
Now, you don't have to go crazy with it, but just incorporate it here and there to tie it all in together. Whether it's with little decorative pieces, invitations, food labels, napkins, table cloth, candles, or with the food itself, bringing a pop of color in can bring your gathering to the next level.
- Statement napkins.
- Serving warmers.
I have two different electric serving warmers and I'm OBSESSED! I got this one for Christmas a few years ago from Costco. It's perfect for food that you've made in advance, and want to keep warm.
- Stylish table cloth or runner.
- Signs and food labels.
- Serving platters, plates, and dishes.
- Space-saving tools.
Functionality and flow is key when feeding a crowd. You don't want people to have to reach over 3 different trays of food to reach the napkins! Here are some tools I like:
- Dress up your water.
I prefer serving my water in a large dispenser so I don't have to keep filling it up throughout the party. I shopped around for one for a year or two, then finally settled on a $17.99 pitcher from Costco that has been fabulous.
When I want to serve something other than water, I often go the easy route and buy a case of water bottles or serve soda in the can. That way I don't have to worry about spills and cups. I keep my eye on soda all year and stock up when it goes on sale.
So there you go! Wow, this was the longest post ever. Hopefully now you have all the tools you need to have LOTS of gatherings this summer…on the cheap. Remember, even the cheapest and simplest meals can make for an unforgettable party with a little creativity and a lot of love.
Happy partying 🙂
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