How to Throw a Dinner Party on a Budget

FN Staffers dish on their favorite ways to be the best host without spending the most.

May 06, 2022
Food Network Kitchen's Carnitas, as seen on Food Network.

Food Network Kitchen's Carnitas, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Stephen Johnson ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Stephen Johnson, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

After the now-famous dinner party Venmo request made the rounds and we debated the faux pas amongst ourselves, we had etiquette experts weigh in to give their final say if (and when!) it’s appropriate to ask guests to chip in for a dinner party. But that really only felt like half of the conversation. Hosting is fun, but it’s also expensive, so Food Network staffers decided to round up how we like to entertain on a budget.

Get a Little Help from Your Friends

I love to ask guests to bring dessert so I can take care of the main course. Tacos with a lot of different fillings is the perfect dinner party food -- everyone can build their own according to their diet preferences, and most of the fillings are very budget-friendly. I start with a simple grain — I like brown rice because it pleases the vegetarians and the haters can blunt the flavor under loads of toppings — and then I cover the table with bowls of make-ahead dishes like purposefully plain poached chicken breasts (which I serve shredded), rich carnitas (pictured above), black beans, and corn salad. On the day of, I roast a load of mushrooms or cubed winter squash or sweet potatoes. A citrusy slaw like Bobby's is an essential, along with warmed tortillas, of course. But my kryptonite is the toppings — I can never serve (or eat) enough. Sliced radishes, pickled red onions, lime wedges, cilantro sprigs, sliced avocado, pepitas, a big mound of grated Cheddar, fresh jalapenos, chipotles in adobo ... the abundance of garnishes is an easy form of hospitality that always hits home.

Lygeia Grace, Culinary Editorial Director, Food Network & Cooking Channel

Citrus Crinkle Cut Cookies

Citrus Crinkle Cut Cookies

I am getting married and have asked guests to help us create a cookie table. (I'm from the Midwest and this is a thing we do sometimes for weddings.) We'll probably have over a dozen varieties — all with a special story made by a special person. My son and I are going to make these cookies (with natural food coloring) for an added pop of color.

Leah Brickley, Senior Culinary Editor

Food Network Kitchen Step by Steps

Food Network Kitchen Step by Steps

Photo by: Lucy Schaeffer

Lucy Schaeffer

My husband will tell you I go a teensy bit overboard when it comes to entertaining — yes, I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to prepare multiple appetizers, mains, sides and desserts in addition to a big-batch cocktail for a *very chill* cookout and not let anyone bring anything — but over the past few years, I’ve learned to scale it back a little. My new strategy is to provide the basics: an appetizer (something make-ahead and budget-friendly like white bean dip with veggies or pita chips), the mains (classics like burgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken), a side (usually a pasta salad that’s heavy on cheaper in-season veggies) and a dessert (cookies). When people ask what they can bring, I make sure to ask a few to bring beer, wine or ice, and leave it up to everyone else if they want to bring extra appetizers, sides or desserts. I have found, despite my reservations, there’s ALWAYS enough to eat and drink, and that our friends used to hate showing up empty handed so it’s a win for everyone.

Julie Hines, Managing Editor

Bulk Up

Costco (or other warehouse-style retailers) is my secret for entertaining a crowd. I can find ingredients for a charcuterie board, high-quality cuts of meat, drinks by the case and party-size bags of chips at wholesale prices, which are a lot cheaper per unit than my usual grocery store. Plus, many of these big box stores are shoppable via Instacart without a membership. I like to order groceries for delivery, which allows me to continue party planning in the time I would normally be spending at the store. Pro tip: Don't forget to clear out room in your fridge before getting groceries!

T.K. Brady, Senior Editor

Minimalist Crowd Pleaser

It can be fun to do a taco bar or make-your-own pizza night for get-togethers, but when I serve interactive meals like that, I find that it's easy to go overboard with ingredient options, extra toppings and other add-ons. Extremely fun, but not always cheap! And then you're often stuck with an odd amount of leftovers that don't mesh well. Instead, make one main dish that everyone will love and can have as few ingredients as you like -- I'm partial to serving a baked ziti with a big green salad.

Lauren Piro, Director, Editorial

Related Content:

Next Up

Is It Rude to Charge Your Guests for a Dinner Party?

As is so often true, the most important thing is to state your expectations upfront.

8 Must-Have Products to Throw a Dinner Party, According to a Caterer

Having these on hand will take some of the load off of hosting a large format meal.

6 Best Speakers for Every Kind of Dinner Party

Whether you're planning a beachside picnic or an intimate dinner party, these are the best speakers for every occasion.

6 Delicious Dinner Party Recipes You Can Make Ahead of Time

Sometimes the most important ingredient is extra time.

The Totally Out-of-the-Box Way to Serve Fruit at Your Next Dinner Party

Watch your favorite TikTokers get creative with their food in our new digital series, Food Network TikTok Challenge.

7 Things You Need to Make Your Next Dinner Party Stress-Free

We asked six party planners to pick the items they rely on most to simplify their dinner parties. Their answers might surprise you!

What's Your Dream Dinner Party?

Inspired by the season finale of Food Network's Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, FN Dish wants to know what would be your dream dinner party.

How to Feed a Crowd at a Dinner Party

Not sure how much food you need to serve? Consult this handy cheat sheet.