Serving Crowds & Staying on Budget

Holiday season is approaching and that means the hosts and hostesses of the world are planning our holiday gatherings. Whether it’s a Halloween Party, Friendsgiving or Cookie Exchange Party (my personal favorite), it’s time to get your theme together and start planning out the menu. We also know that the holidays usually have us all looking in our pockets to make sure we aren’t spending too much on gifts, gatherings and peppermint lattes.

Here are a few tips and tricks to keep your gatherings within budget:

A Limited & Lavish Bar
If you’ll be serving guest any alcoholic beverages, you don’t need the full bar available. It’s easier on you and your pockets to serve two big batch recipes, typically one being wine focused e.g. sangria and the other being alcohol-focused e.g. Christmas punch.  Men generally drink beer, so make sure to add that to the list. With this sample selection, your shopping list isn’t extensive and all of your bases are covered.

Avoid Sample Sizes
Not only do individual appetizers eat up your prep time, they’ll eat up your budget as well. The best way to serve a crowd is with large, serve yourself portions. Casseroles, meatballs, pinwheels and even some easy to make sliders should be your go-to when it comes to serving crowds. There are so many delicious recipes you can make, so underwhelmed guests will not be a concern.

Beef or Chicken
These two main ingredients are your friend. Once you venture into seafood and pork, your budget will increase. Try to keep your menu centered around these two ingredients. With a little thought, a pack of chicken and ground beef can become 4 different menu options with completely different tastes.

Double Duty Ingredients
The first three tips should keep your budget in control, but if you’re really on a tight budget, you just need to take some time out to plan. Once you have all of your menu ideas, gather them up and take a look at the ingredients. Combine the recipes that have similar ingredients or ingredients that you already have in the house and those are your winners. Buying unnecessary or one-time use ingredients is an expense that can be spent elsewhere.

With extra thought and preparation, you can pull off an amazing gathering with any type of budget. The only ingredients you really need are a handful of friends and a few pinches family and everyone will be full…of love!

Do you have any budget-friendly hosting tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Let’s Plan Together – A Cookie Exchange Party Pt. 2

Second stop on our planning journey: Food and Beverage

When hosting an event, such as a Cookie Exchange Party, your menu can be quite hard to decide. There will be plenty of cookies to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, but you want to make sure they aren’t too full to enjoy them. I found that it’s best to serve your guests a light menu, but provide enough food that they can snack as much as they’d like. Timing is also a keep factor. My party is held at 7pm which is prime dinner time for most people, so I like to have a substantial menu for guests to enjoy. However, pushing it back to 8pm moves it to post dinner time. This now provides you with the option for an extremely light menu (read: cheese and crackers) or no menu at all.

Bonus: When deciding on the timing of your event, consider your guest list and your budget. For example: my guest list includes parents and attending children, so I have my events earlier so they can still attend and not have to stay out late. And someone with a limited budget will most likely choose the later time to avoid a costly menu.

This year I’ve decided on a Dip Bar. I absolutely love stations, bars and buffets! Variety is a key to life and I love providing people with delicious choices to choose from. So, there will be six dips for everyone to indulge in with tortillas, crackers and bread. I’ve made sure to have a balance between spicy, veggie and meat filled dips to please everyone’s tastes. Please don’t be fooled, with the right dips, you can definitely get delightfully fooled from a variety of dips.

The six tips on the Dip Bar menu are:

Chorizo and Cheese Dip

BBQ Chicken Dip (as opposed to a Buffalo Chicken Dip, since I already had the Chorizo Dip)

Hoagie Dip

I interrupt this post for an important message: This dip is one of the best dips I have ever had. If you close your eyes and eat, you would swear you were eating an authentic Italian hoagie. Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

The Classic Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Meatball Dip

For the Bar…

This is where I have decided to tone it down than it has been in the past. In the two previous years, I’ve opened the full bar for guests to choose the drink of their choice and I’ve done signature drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

This year I’m going festive, yet simple. There will be a limited bar menu of wine, beer, soda and juice options and a Mimosa Punch. I always like to have something new, so that the “ regulars “ don’t get bored, so enter Mimosa Punch.

To see more of my Cookie Party inspiration and ideas check out my Pinterest Board here.

(Photos: evislshenanigans.com, plainchicken.com, the-girl-who-ate-everything.com, heathersdish.com, mmmisformommy.com, pearls-handcuffs-happyhour.blogspot.com, tastebook.com)

Next Stop: Layout – How to Maximize Comfort and Conversation

I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the Dip Bar and Bar Menu? Leave a comment with any suggestions and feedback!

If you’re going to do…A ” Dry ” Reception

You don’t always need a cocktail or beer to have a good time. Many people opt to have dry receptions for their weddings, corporate events, and especially at baby showers (we don’t want the mom-to-be to feel left out). If you’re going to do a dry reception there are some creative and easy ways to bring some wow to an otherwise dry reception.

Make it fun. A dry reception is the perfect opportunity to think outside the wine glass! Go nostalgic with root beer or coke floats. Go young and fun with milkshakes. Go seasonal with lemonade and iced tea. As long as it fits with the theme or has an element of wow, got for it! (Photo: iloveswmag.com)

Make it sparkle. Who doesn’t love a sparkling, bubbly drink? Sparkling cider and sparkling water are great to add to a nice fruit juice and gives the same effect of a sparkling cocktail. Make sure to serve them in a wine or champagne glass and top it off with a slice of lemon. Perfection!

Have a ” mocktail ” instead. A mocktail is a cocktail that doesn’t contain alcohol, but is just as delicious and fancy as a cocktail. Mocktails are perfect for ladies events, such as a girls night in  or evening baby shower. They let us enjoy the cute and girly drink we all love to enjoy on those nights out.  Check this out for 10 delicious mocktail recipes.

Please join me in raising your sparkling mocktails! Cheers!

If you’re going to do…Creative Guest Books Edition

For those of you who are thinking you can skip this post because “guest books are just for weddings “. I say to you, No Way! Remember, guest books are for your special occasion of choice. Birthday parties, baby showers, housewarming parties and even sip and sees. Any event you want to remember and remember who you shared it with, guest books are for you.

The purpose of a guest book originated as the idea to gather the information of guests attending a special event to be remembered and used as a souvenir of sorts.  They were actual books available for guests to sign and provide their contact information; this allowed the event host to have on hand information for thank you notes. Now you find that event hosts aren’t just collecting names and contact information, they are looking for sincere reminders of the special occasions. We’re not collecting information; we’re gathering best wishes, remarks and pictures from guests to hold on the memory of our special occasion. There has been a great deal of creativity brought to the idea of guest books that we see today. From fingerprint Family Trees to puzzle pieces, the creative possibilities for guest books are endless.

So if you’re going to take the non-traditional route and try something innovative for your guest book, let’s remember a few things.

If you’re going to do creative guest booksMake it easy for your guests. The number one thing to remember about guest books is to make it easy for your guests. Guests come to celebrate and have fun with you, so you don’t want them spending too much time on their guest book activity. Make sure your idea and directions are easily understood and implemented.  Take for example the idea of having guests leave their fingerprint on a family tree. A very sentimental and meaningful guest book idea. If you want to use this idea, but you’re not having a small gathering (which this is much better suited for) consider having guests sign leaf cut outs, for you to place on a family tree design.

If you’re going to do creative guest booksDecide how you’ll want it to be displayed. Deciding how your guest book will be displayed, is key in deciding how creative you want to go. Will your guest book be a conversation piece? Will you keep it in safe keeping only to open when you want to relive the memories?  If you want your guest book to be on display consider having guest sign a picture of the guest(s) of honor, have them sign a piece of furniture or serving ware (serving platter, bench) or have them sign puzzle pieces that come together for a beautiful and meaningful piece of art. {You can use the puzzle pieces filled with messages, or create a photo puzzle and have guests sign the back. Either way it’s a piece of art you’ll cherish.}

If you’re going to do creative guest booksMultipurpose to save the budget. Guest books can easily be paired with place cards and table numbers. Your place cards can double as guest books by simply adding space for guests to write their message for you. You can also combine them with your table number. The time capsule/prediction idea is being used a lot lately. Have your guests leave a message for you to open on your Table 12th anniversary. Or have them leave Table 5 birthday wishes for the guest of honor. Bonus: If you are doing a guest book to gather information for thank you notes, remember to leave space for name and contact information.

If you’re going to do creative guest books…Allow the book to be the creativity. Save yourself the time spent on a DIY guest book project and let the book bring the creativity. For a child’s birthday party, buy a copy of their favorite book and have the guest sign the pages. If you’re looking for guest book ideas for a milestone birthday party (21, 30, 40, 50…), look to the classic motivational book, Dr. Suess’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go and have your guests leave motivational birthday wishes throughout the pages. You can also bring the ease of this idea to your wedding. Not sure what to do with all those engagement photos you took? Create a photo book and have your guests enjoy your photos and leave their best wishes at the same time.

What’s the most creative guest book you’ve seen? Leave a comment and share!

(Photos: etsy.com, jesihaackweddingblog.com, casasugar.com, theknot.com)

Beyond the Essentials – Inspiration Thursdays

If it hasn’t shown through this blog yet, let me just say, I am a huge fan of multi-purposing event items. Not only does it cut down on the budget, but the creativity that comes from the idea of it is truly amazing.

Today’s Inspiration Thursday post is about the multi-purposing of wedding programs. 

Get Creative. Get Inspired. Think Beyond the Essentials.

The Pros and Cons…Invitation Edition

One of the most exciting things to receive as a guest is an invitation to an event! Whether it’s in your mailbox or inbox, we all love to be invited to celebrate, pretty much anything. As a planner though, it takes careful consideration to decide if your guests will be ripping open a great invitation or clicking on a great invitation.

Today’s post is about the Pros and Cons of Paper Invitations vs. Electronic Invitations:

30th Birthday Invitations provided by AHappySlappyGreeting.

Paper Invitations

The Pros
Classic and Traditional. Many people find handcrafted, postal mail invitations to be a lost art and most guests would truly appreciate the effort put into paper invitations.
Formal, regardless of how Fun. Your guests will seriously take into consideration their RSVP to your event with a paper invitation. Most people will double-check their schedules and be sure they are sending a confirming response before they email, call or send in their reply card.
Totally Customizable. There are so many designers out there that can create an invitation uniquely for you. If you want a stand out invitation for your stand out invite, paper invitations are the way to go. The above photo of invitations provided by AHappySlappyGreeting, a greeting card company that can work with you to create customized invitations to start your guests experience.
Souvenir. Especially for weddings, baby showers and bridal showers, you and your guests can keep the invitations as a memory of the wonderful occasion to be celebrated.

The Cons

– Expensive. Great invites come at a cost. There’s design and printing costs to consider along with postage and possible reply card postage as well. The good thing is, they have some great preprinted invitations that you can find at your local and chain craft stores.
– One time Communication. When sending out paper invites it’s very time-consuming and expensive to send out any later updates. So, when sending paper invites, make sure all of the information is correct and nothing has a high probability of changing.
– Dealing with Snail Mail. When sending paper invites, remember what you’re dealing with. Invitations can get lost in the mail or arrive later than expected. Make sure you plan your mailing date with the appropriate leeway and make sure you stick with it.
– Time-Consuming. Before sending out your invitations, you’ll have to collect all of the correct mailing addresses, and if any invitations get returned for undeliverable addresses, you’ll have to do some research to obtain the correct information. There’s also the addressing, posting and sealing to do, so gather an assembly crew to get some help.

Electronic Invitations

The Pros

– Easy Access. If at any time your guest wants to pull up the information and details about your event, its right at their fingertips.
– Budget Friendly. There are so many electronic invitation services available online that I am sure you can find one to fit your budget whether it’s $0 or $500.
– Did you forget someone? Are you now going to start inviting people off the B-List? Electronic invitations make it much easier to add on to your guest list with a few simple clicks.
– Total Event Management. Many of the electronic invitation services available take it at least one step further, allowing you to quickly send out updates, print out guest lists and keep track of your RSVPs.

The Cons

– Casual Tone. Electronic Invitations come with a casual tone, which often causes people to not take it too seriously. Your guests will tend to ignore RSVP dates or just RSVP with a quick and easy click, and then not show.
– Over Themed? In most cases, I am a total fan of over themed events. The more detailed the better. But sometimes, electronic invitations can take a theme too far, and you don’t have any way of customizing it through your electronic invitation service of choice.
– Not everyone is tech-savvy. Yes, there are people in the world who don’t check their email every day. You risk having someone miss an invitation because they haven’t check their email or because it simply went into their Spam box :(.

What’s my choice, you ask?

I’m a traditional gal at heart and a professional event planner 9-5, so I believe in the charm of a classic paper invitation.

With paper invites you’ll have to be organized, creative and timely. If you want to set a formal and classic tone to your event, paper invitations are the best choice. On the other hand, Electronic invitations give you much more wiggle room to send out invites at a late date, change time, venue and even the date. But that comes with the risk of your event not being taken seriously from your guests, which leaves you with more hassle in the end.

Whether it’s in an envelope or through the click of the mouse, remember your invitation is the first introduction to your event, make it a good one!