The holidays are all about spending time with friends and family. Even though the basic costs of cooking a traditional holiday meal at home are still far less than the price to eat out, hosting a holiday dinner for your loved ones can be quite costly depending on how you decide to go about it. The secret to keeping your dinner budget manageable is all in the planning and the division of labor.
Try these tips to help you treat your guests to a memorable holiday dinner without breaking the bank.
Make a guest list. Whether you deliver your invitations in person, by phone or email, get the word out early (at least three to four weeks ahead of the date) so you can get a feel for the number you will be serving. Take your number and round it up enough to allow for any last minute additions. You want to be sure to have enough for everyone. It’s better to wind up with a few leftovers than to have anybody leave the table hungry. Once you know how many guests to expect, you can proceed with the other important steps of planning and budgeting your meal.
Decide on your menu. Know your audience. Plan a menu that is suited to what your guests will enjoy. If you are expecting several children to attend don’t count on them to want all of the same foods as the adults attending. It never hurts to include some simple kid-friendly standards like mac and cheese along with all the traditional holiday dishes. Be sure to ask if there are any vegetarians or vegans on the list. Not sure what they might enjoy? Consider asking them to bring a favorite dish.
If your family has certain holiday favorites, don’t forget to include some of them on the menu. Asking family and friends to bring that special casserole or dessert they are known for can turn an everyday potluck into a memorable family gathering that keeps traditions going from generation to generation.
Don’t forget the appetizers. Serving appetizers before the main course can add to the cost of your holiday gathering, but you don’t want your guests to get “hangry” while waiting for dinner to be served. Some affordable options are an antipasto platter, cheese and fruit or fresh veggies and dip. Your goal is to offer something to “tide” your guests over until the meal, not spoil their appetites for the main event.
Confirm your game plan. Do you plan to prepare all of the food yourself, or will it be a potluck dinner? Taking responsibility for the cost of the whole meal can be substantially more expensive, depending on the menu and the number of guests. A good compromise is providing the main course, one salad and side yourself and asking each of your guests to bring an additional side or dessert. If you have young adult singles on your list you might ask them to bring ice or soft drinks so they can participate too. If your group enjoys wine with the meal, suggest that everyone bring a favorite bottle based on what you will be serving. Once you have planned your menu you can let your guests know the dishes you will need. Be sure to keep a list of what everybody is bringing so you don’t wind up with four green bean casseroles, ten desserts and no mashed potatoes.
Establish a budget. Your budget will obviously depend on the number of guests, whether or not you prepare all of the food yourself and your menu. As a general rule, count on an average of around $5 per person for a simple meal. For a holiday meal, the cost is usually higher if you go solo on the shopping and cooking and less if you split up the costs with your guests for a potluck-style meal. The important thing to remember is that you set the budget based on what you can afford to spend and stick to it.