Disposable plates and red Solo cups are fine for frat parties and tailgates, but a host or hostess on a budget shouldn’t have to resort to a sweep of the paper goods aisle. Take a cue from the experts and focus your efforts on little upgrades that will make a big impact.
“Some of the best events are simple with a few beautiful details,” says Lauren Conrad, whose book “Celebrate” features an approachable guide to entertaining. Conrad, who also co-founded the nonprofit home goods store the Little Market, loves combining low-cost accents, such as colorful paper straws, with higher-end items, such as bamboo plates.
According to Sarah Ashley Schiear, an A-list caterer turned founder of the lifestyle and entertaining site Salt House Market, the fact that more casual get-togethers are on trend is good news for anyone looking to host an event at home without breaking the bank.
“First and foremost, don’t take yourself too seriously,” Schiear says. “There’s this old idea in our minds where you have to get centerpieces and everything has to be perfect, but that is not what’s modern.”
One of her favorite ways to avoid party-planning burnout is to steer clear of anything tied to one particular season or function. “Nobody wants to be stuck buying things that they have to store later,” says Schiear, who suggests making sure anything you buy for your event has an everyday use in your home.
Schiear recommends building your party palette around a classic table setting and adding greenery, votive candles and seasonal fruit – she loves pomegranates. “That is a lot less expensive than doing a big flower arrangement,” she adds.
Conrad agrees that even a small number of strategically placed fresh flowers can make an event feel special without the need for heavy decorations. “Use small jars and vases so you will only need to put a few flowers in each piece,” she suggests. “A little bit can go a long way.”
Ashley Rose of the DIY-inspired lifestyle blog Sugar & Cloth says another way to keep your decoration budget in check is to choose a few focal point vignettes, and don’t be afraid to mix and match items: “You can easily clip greenery from around your home for arrangements in a vase, mixed with a few key pieces from your local produce section, such as cherries, cranberries, artichoke and squash.”
When it comes to special-occasion entertaining, however, experts agree a few things are worth splurging on. Read on for their top advice.
1. Perfect your plating
Whether you’re planning simple snacks or a sit-down dinner, the plates you choose will set the tone for the event. “I’m a big proponent of investing in a set of white plates,” Schiear says.
And with an Ikea line starting at 99 cents per plate, you don’t have much of an excuse. If you must go with something disposable, Rose recommends a set of gold-foiled plates to add pizazz: “You’d be amazed at what disposable party items you can find these days that look like a million bucks.”
Instead of paper plates, try:
Abstract Betsy large paper-and-foil plates ($6.50 for a set of eight, shopmerimeri.com).
Oftast tempered-glass plates (99 cents each, ikea.com).
2. Set up a hydration station
Schiear’s go-to is chilled bottles of San Pellegrino water served with citrus wedges. A pretty glass pitcher full of water or a signature beverage can also serve as a functional focal point. “Style a bar cart with inexpensive, pretty napkins, a drink dispenser and a few candles,” Rose says.
Instead of plastic water bottles, try:
San Pellegrino sparkling water ($1.79 per one-liter bottle, target.com).
Libbey pitcher ($20.02, wayfair.com).
3. Choose sturdier napkins
This is one detail that experts agree is worth the price – and extra load of laundry.
Instead of paper napkins, try:
White buffet napkins ($9.99 for a set of six, worldmarket.com).
Linen hemstitch napkins ($48 for a set of four, potterybarn.com).
4. Forgo plastic flatware
Metallic cutlery can create an instant wow factor. “It costs more, but you can use them every day, and overall it makes a big impact,” Schiear says.
Disposable wooden cutlery is a less expensive option that comes in an assortment of shapes and sizes and coordinates with most decor.
Instead of plastic cutlery, try:
Wooden cutlery ($4.95 for a 24-piece pack of appetizer-appropriate “petite” forks, knives or spoons or $6.80 for the larger “deluxe” size, papereskimo.com).
Project 62’s Izon Mirror five-piece silverware set in gold ($19.99 for a five-piece set, target.com).
5. Set out toast-worthy glasses
They may come in festive colors, but you can do better than those plastic Solo cups. Schiear says raiding your own cabinets (or your friends’) for mismatched glassware can create an eclectic vibe. She also loves classic, European stackable glasses. If you need something tossable, Rose recommends a classic tumbler that can do double duty for cocktails and pre-made desserts.
Instead of red party cups, try:
Chinet’s “cut crystal” plastic tumblers ($21.96 for a pack of 100, Amazon.com).
Marta glass ($1.50 for a tasting glass, $1.95 for a double old-fashioned glass, cb2.com).
6. Use a runner
Whether you prefer your table clothed or bare, a simple runner can help tie everything together. Schiear recommends something in a natural color or fabric. “I’ve heard of people finding things around the house,” such as old curtains or drapes, she says.
Muslin fabric can also work in a pinch: “The naturally frayed edges of the material make it great for a quick, cut-and-go DIY project,” Rose says.
Instead of a disposable tablecloth, try:
Natural muslin fabric ($3.81 per yard, Amazon.com).
Natural fiber and Lurex table runner ($24.99, worldmarket.com).