It’s easy to throw a dinner party on an unlimited budget (catering, anyone?), but when funds are tight it’s time to get creative. Potlucks are a common alternative, but sometimes you end up with bags of chips and various dipping things. Here are some ideas to help you think beyond the crock pot:
1. Holiday Baking
This is what sparked the idea for this post, actually. Last weekend my friend Jolon at SavvyChicSavings hosted a party where we spent the day baking brownies and dipping things in chocolate (dried apricots, pretzels, peanut butter balls). Of course the hot chocolate with peppermint Schnapps helped too! The key was to not have too many things that have to go in the oven. At the end of the day, we took home samplings of what we made in cute little tins. It’s sort of an alternative cookie exchange.
2. Wine Tasting
This is a great way to find inexpensive wines. Ask everyone to bring a bottle of their favorite wine under $10 (or $15 or $20, depending on whatever your friends are comfortable with, although the idea is to discover inexpensive favorites). They also bring an appetizer or dessert that pairs with it. Make sure someone is taking notes, because by the end of the night you’ll want to remember what that fabulous $7 Shiraz was.
3. Make & Take
This is a variation on the holiday baking theme. Everyone decides on freezable dinners to make, and the day is spent cooking. At the end of the day you get to take home various main dishes to stock your freezer. Read more about this idea at my friend Jen’s blog, The Big Binder.
4. Supper Club
There are a couple of variations on this theme as well. Some of our friends and I decided that we weren’t getting together as much as we’d like, so we are hoping to get together for dinner once a month or so. We have a wide range of incomes, so instead of having each host being responsible for the entire meal, we are having the host provide the main dish and then everyone else is responsible for bringing a dessert or a side dish that goes with it. We coordinate using the Events feature on FaceBook. Cooking Light also has some great tips for starting a supper club.
Old fashioned and a whole lot of fun, it’s a great way to share canning equipment (those pressure canners are expensive!) and learn how to can. I have fond memories of attending canning parties when I lived in the country. The leader would get enough tomatoes from her own garden and that of friends, and divide up the “other” ingredients among the attendees to bring. For example someone might have to bring garlic, another person tomato paste. At the end of the day would be cans and cans of salsa and pizza sauce. It’s not just for summer, though – you can make marmalade and jelly from frozen fruits even in the winter. For more ideas check out the Canning Across America website.
Fondue restaurants are fun but awfully pricey. I’ll bet some of your friends have fondue pots sitting around just waiting to be used! If you need recipe ideas, check out Better Homes & Garden’s article on how to host a fondue party. If you don’t have enough fondue pots, you can also find “dippable” recipes that don’t require heat.
7. Burger Cookoff
A friend of ours holds a burger cookoff every year, and I posted about it on my blog. It was so much fun, and I could see using a similar setup for a chili cookoff or really anything that gets the guys involved.
8. DIY Pizza
If you have a friend with a backyard pizza oven, this is a great way to get to know them! Have one person in charge of the dough, everyone else can bring various toppings, and everyone can make their own pizza.
9. Soup Swap
This is something that I went to about once a year when I lived in the country. (Why did I do so much more of this when I lived in the country? Hmmm, maybe because restaurants were so far away?) Everyone brings a large pot of soup (don’t forget to assign someone to crackers and bread though!) to share. You also bring containers to take shares of your favorites home. This is like a make & take party, except you eat most of it and don’t make it there. It’s especially wonderful in the winter when it’s cold out and soup is so warming.
10. Your standard potluck
Maybe your set of friends is really stuck on the standard potluck idea and wont’ go for any of the theme variations above. That’s OK. One of the things I’ve found over the years is that it helps to assign categories and set out the ground rules so that you don’t end up with too many bags of chips (or maybe it’s just my husband’s friends who do that!). Again, FaceBook is really helpful to make sure it’s a rounded out meal.
What are your favorite dinner party ideas?