Essential Tips for Throwing a Dazzling Dinner Party on a Budget
Hosting an elegant dinner party can be a lot of fun. But if you’re picturing spending a ton of money and hours hovering over the stove, don’t stress. You can host an easy dinner party that looks much fancier than it was to throw together.
From the table settings to a signature drink, here are 30 ideas to help you host a simple, low-cost dinner party that looks surprisingly fancy. You’ll have all of your guests impressed with this high-class soiree on a budget.
Mail Paper Invitations
There’s something more formal and special about receiving a paper invitation in the mail. In an age where text messages, emails and e-cards are all the rage, take the time to send out paper invitations. To save money, buy some pretty cardstock in bulk and print your invitations at home.
Print Name Cards & Menus
While you’re dusting off your printer, make your dinner party even more personal with printed name cards. Create a themed name card for every guest, and put one at each place setting. You can make these at home for only the cost of the sheets of paper. You may want to wait until you’ve decided on your decor to create coordinating tags.
Keep the Menu Simple
When it comes to your dinner party menu, there’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars. Stick to recipes you know and love. Comfort food that serves lots of people and makes them feel at home is always a safe bet. You don’t want to try a 50-step recipe for the first time.
Prep Individual Desserts
Making individual desserts is a really special touch. Your guests will feel extra-fancy when you place mini desserts in front of them. Choose a recipe you can make in mini ramekin cups or cocktail glasses for a touch of whimsy. Use glasses you already have and go with an affordable, easy dessert.
Make a Signature Cocktail
A signature cocktail adds class and elegance. You don’t need to spend a lot of money here either. If you have a punch bowl or a large drink dispenser, choose a recipe (or invent your own) that’s easy to make with or without alcohol. The nice thing about a punch is that you also don’t have to serve individual drinks all night — people can self-serve.
Use Chargers & Good Silverware
Nothing says "fancy" like a charger plate and shiny silverware. While most parties don’t include a salad fork, an entree fork or even a spoon, go ahead and put them all out there. It doesn’t cost you anything to empty your utensil drawer, and it’ll look super-posh when the table is all set.
Build a Pretty Centerpiece
A pretty centerpiece can make the table feel cohesive and gorgeous. You don’t have to go out and order a $100 custom bouquet, either. You can make a centerpiece using vases you already own and some inexpensive greenery from the grocery store.
Make a Custom Playlist
Silence at a dinner party is a major mood killer. Keep the energy going by playing some good tunes. When you set up a custom playlist, your guests will take notice of all the thought you put into every aspect of the party. The devil is in the details when it comes to dinners.
Include Chalkboard Signs
Chalkboard signs are an inexpensive way to customize your party. You can get small chalkboard signs at the dollar store, online or at your local craft store. Add signs to label the food, write out a menu, call out your signature drink or write a welcome note. These also make fun place cards.
Drink From Real Glassware
It’s time to upgrade from red Solo cups. While it may be a pain to wash all of your glasses after the party, using real glassware sets your dinner apart and makes it feel like a celebratory occasion. Besides, there’s no point in having all of your glasses if you never actually use them.
Use a Tablecloth or Runner
White tablecloths aren’t just for fancy restaurants. Bust out a nice tablecloth for your next dinner party. You can buy a neutral color to use for multiple occasions, but there are also some pretty classy disposable ones out there.
Use Nice Napkins
Napkins are an inexpensive way to further stylize your party. You can use cloth napkins if you have them or buy some paper napkins that go with your theme. No matter what your theme is, chances are there’s a napkin out there to go with it and add pops of color.
Serve Multiple Courses
One big difference between a dinner party and a gathering is a coursed meal. Offering a coursed meal makes your dinner party seem elevated. Even if your courses were all inexpensive and easy to make, there's something about serving multiple dishes that takes your dinner party up a notch.
Candles impart great glow and ambiance to a dinner party. Not only are they inexpensive, but they can also add drama and romance. You can set candles around your centerpiece at varying heights to add some dimension. Layer larger pillar candles with small votives for instant glamour.
Play a Game
Games are a fun addition to any dinner party. From traditional card games to poker or ice-breaker games, let your creativity run wild. If you want to keep the fun going after dinner, add a game to keep your guests entertained — it’s easy to use what you already have around the house.
Serve Appetizers & Late-night Snacks
Appetizers are a great way to kick off your evening. You can serve appetizers casually as people come in and catch up before dinner, or you can serve them while people are seated before your main course. Either way, think of your appetizers as an extension of your main dishes.
Impress With a Cheese Plate
A cheese plate is a classy addition to every get-together. We’re not talking about butter crackers and cheddar here, either. Have a little fun by exploring some unique cheeses. When you’re at the grocery store you can explain your menu to the person working the cheese section, and they can give you some great pairings.
Make After-dinner Drinks
After your amazing meal, top guests off with an after-dinner drink. This dinner-party staple is a nice way to end your meal and transition over to dessert. The different liquors or wines often have some digestive aids to help your stomach out a little after a big meal. It’s also a classy touch your guests might not think of.
Arrange a Coffee Bar
Another nice way to end the evening is with a coffee and tea bar. After a big meal, guests may enjoy a little pick-me-up like a nice cup of coffee. The caffeine in coffee and tea can get people out of their food comas and ready to play some games.
Include the Whole Family
If your dinner party will also include some younger guests, don’t forget to make fun food for them. Kids will love being included at the dinner table or at their own table with a kid-proof centerpiece and table setting. While toddlers are another story, older kids will love the chance to sit at a pretty table for dinner.
Entertain the Kiddos
If the kids are staying later with the adults at the party, you can include them in your after-dinner games. Pick some classic kids’ board games or card games like Uno and Old Maid. A late-night movie is also great for keeping kids entertained.
Choose a Theme
Adding a theme to your party makes it more special. You can easily carry it through to everything from the centerpiece to the menu. Signature drinks, cocktails, appetizers and desserts can also be parts of your theme.
Play Spin the Bottle…but Not the Way You Think
When you think of spin the bottle, you’re probably thinking of the game you played as kids involving an awkward kiss and an empty root beer. This grown-up version of spin the bottle involves a circle of friends and some good old-fashioned dancing.
Host a Classy Potluck
While potluck dinners may get a bad rap, there are definitely ways to class them up. Potlucks are a great way to host a dinner party without spending a ton of money. This also takes some pressure off of you. You can assign guests a course, a drink, a dessert, a side dish or even a game to bring.
Have Guests BYOB
Alcohol can be one of the most expensive parts of a dinner party. From wine and beer to hard alcohol and everything in between, booze can really add up. To keep costs down, ask everyone to bring their own alcohol.
Step Up Your Bathroom Game
When it comes to a dinner party, people will see more of your house than just the dining room table. Don't forget to dress up the other rooms in your home as well, especially the bathroom. To add a fancy touch to guests’ restroom experience, upgrade your bathroom amenities a bit.
Give Party Favors
Party favors aren’t just for kids. Even adults enjoy a little goodie bag every now and then. Treat your guests like the royalty they are with a special something to take home. Some goodie bag ideas include a card with the recipes from the night, a wine glass charm and a bag of retro candy.
Take the Party Outdoors
If the weather is nice on the night of your dinner party, why not incorporate the outdoors? You can host the entire dinner party al fresco with some pretty string lights and candles, or just take the party outside for dessert.
Jazz Up Your Water
While water may be the last thing on your mind at a dinner party, it can actually class things up. There are a lot of fun fruits and herbs that can flavor your water and make it look gorgeous, too. To start, use a large clear drink dispenser or a pretty pitcher if you have one.
Get Your Next Party on the Calendar
After your classy (and budget-friendly) dinner party, guests will be asking themselves when they can come to the next one. With the success of your first fancy get-together, get your next high-class event on the books sooner rather than later.