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Entertaining on a College Budget

We want everyone to learn the art of hospitality, even when that means entertaining on a college budget! Here are easy steps, simple reminders, and a few tips to get you started.

  1. You want to throw a party! The first step is to set a date and time.

  2. Plan a theme. A football pre-party? Galentine’s Lunch? Here is a fun website that will inspire you with endless ideas. 

  3. Decide how many people you can host. Then decide who you will invite. Is this just your closest friends? Are dates included? Decisions will need to be made before extending the invitation.

  4. What type of food will you serve? Appetizers for a pre-party, a sit-down dinner, or you keep it simple and host a wine and cheese gathering. The goal is to get people together for a fun time. Do not over-complicate your menu.

  5. When deciding how much food to serve, the rule of three is a good place to start. Take the number of guests and multiply it by three to determine how many servings you will need for appetizers. For a main course, usually, two times is a good formula. You will end up with leftovers, but it allows people to go back for seconds.

  6. When extending an invitation, ask the guests if they have any food allergies. You do not need to prepare two separate meals to accommodate these guests, but it will help you with certain preparations.

  7. When planning any party, always apply the KIS method: Keep It Simple! Guests remember the fun time they had and how welcoming a host made them feel. They do not usually remember the food or if every item was to perfection. What they will remember, though, and not in a good way, is if the party was unorganized. This is why keeping it simple is important. A table with flowers and candles, a clean bathroom, plenty of food and drinks, low lights, and music. That is it! Nothing else is needed.

  8. Tip: Enlist friends and family to help move the party along. Assign someone to open the door and greet guests. Assign another friend the job of taking purses and coats and hanging them in a closet. A third friend can oversee refilling drinks. As the hostess, you do not need to take on every responsibility. If each job is covered, delegating to others is a fantastic way to keep everyone engaged.

Essentials to Make Your Home Party Ready

  1. It will take time to build up your entertaining wardrobe, but some items you may already have. Whether you purchased a few things for your first apartment, or they were handed down to you from family, take inventory of what you already have and begin building from there.

  2. Remember the phrase: Invest in the Classics and Rent the Trend. Renting the trend might also be purchasing from thrift stores. Resale furniture places can be a wonderful place to start building your entertaining pieces.

  3. Items we recommend:

  4. Dinner and salad plates: A starter set is between 8-12 plates. Borrow from friends and mix and match as you work to build your own set. For casual parties, cute paper plates have their place, but these should be reserved for very casual gatherings. Think tailgate parties, BBQs, and picnics.

  5. Utensils: Starter set mimics plates. Between 8-12 is ideal. Again, mix and match. If you are using paper plates and wish to have plastic utensils, spend a few extra dollars, and purchase the heavy-duty option.

  6. Napkins: Starter set is 12. I recommend 12 because linen napkins will wear out much sooner than plates and utensils. If you are just beginning to entertain, though, then I recommend paper napkins. This is one area you can get away with less of an investment when first starting out. There are hundreds of cute paper options that can match your theme.

  7. Glassware: There are two basic glasses you will need as you start entertaining. A water glass and a wine glass. For water, you can choose a highball or a double old fashion. This way it can double as a bar drink down the road. For wine, begin with a universal glass to serve both white and red wines. The more you entertain, the more you will learn what you enjoy serving in your home. At this time, you can decide how detailed you want to get with the glasses you purchase. A larger, but still basic, bar glass selection includes: white wine; red wine; high ball; double old fashion; and often a coupe. For casual gatherings outside or tailgate parties before a game, you may wish to pull out the plastic cups. You can take your glasses up a notch by adding wine charms.

  8. Pitcher: There are certain items I feel you cannot have enough of, and a few good pitchers fall into this category. You can use these for signature cocktails, water, and even floral arrangements. No matter what you serve, always have a pitcher of water sitting out for your guests.

  9. Bowls: Small and large! I never get enough of these. From side dishes, candle holders, floral arrangements and even trash containers, the uses are endless. You can even turn them upside down and use them for risers to elevate your food and house décor. I have bowls in every room of my house: vanity table, powder room, office, kitchen, great room. I could go on! Invest in good bowls. You will not be sorry.

  10. Trays: Serving trays are another item you cannot have too many of. For parties, they will hold all types of food, but when not using them for entertaining, they are great for décor. Trays help create vignettes in a room. From a place to display books to a powder room holding towels, trays are a much-needed item.

  11. Bar Cart: This is often the first big item someone receives after college. They are the perfect size for apartments but will still find a place in a larger home. A cart can travel from room to room and be used for many purposes. If I had to buy one piece of entertaining equipment when starting out, it would be a bar cart. I still have my grandmother’s red tea cart proudly displayed in my home!

  12. Items to keep on hand for an impromptu gathering: paper cocktail napkins; mixed nuts; gourmet crackers; block of cheese; olives; chocolate; bottle of wine (always chilled and ready to serve); coffee; sweetener; creamer (non-dairy pods); bottled water. All these items have a long shelf life. For an added treat, keep microwavable popcorn ready.

  13. Get your place ready quickly: clean the toilet; tidy the bathroom; shove clutter in baskets and throw in a closet; light candles; turn down the overhead lights; and turn the music on. That is it! Your home is party-ready in a matter of minutes.

Most importantly, keep your priorities straight. Hospitality is the act of extending love to our friends and neighbors. Entertaining is HOW we show this hospitality. Do not let the desire to entertain like the pictures on Instagram keep you from displaying hospitality. If you are in a stage of life where paper plates and pizza are the only things you have time for, then go for it! Open your doors and invite your friends in. Creating a welcoming atmosphere in your home is critical for fostering a sense of comfort, connection, and enjoyment. It is these traits that will make your guests want to return for more.


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