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Food & Drink

How to host a dinner party on a budget

Love being the host(ess) with the most(ess), but struggle to find the cash to entertain? We've got some great tips on how to host dinner parties on a budget!

dinner party drinks food plates

Dinner parties aren't just great fun – they're also an ideal way to get to know new friends a bit better.

There's something about being in someone's home that makes you relax a bit more than you would do pub, club or eating out in a restaurant (possibly since the wine flows a lot faster when you're not being charged £5 a glass).

The only issue, of course, is that cooking up a storm for multiple people at once can be a bit stressful, not to mention expensive!

Here are our top tips, plus a few budget recipes, to keep your guests (and your pockets!) full and happy.

What’s in this guide?

Buying in your food and drink for the evening? Now's the time to try a supermarket downshift to save yourself a bucket. Don't be tricked by some of the fake deals supermarkets have going!

11 cheap dinner party ideas

If you're able to spend the time and money doing everything on your own, that's very kind (and extremely brave) of you!

However, there are a few different ways that you can mix things up so there's not so much pressure to do (and pay for!) everything alone. Try giving one of these dinner party ideas a try:

  1. Bring a plate party

    stacks of plates

    Credit: hxdbzxy - Shutterstock

    A simple and budget-effective dinner-party-throwing tactic is to go with the 'bring a plate' option. Not just a plate, mind – a plate with some food on it.

    You can either make it a buffet and ask each guest to contribute a plate of their choice, or allocate the starter, main course and dessert to different people.

    Your guests will appreciate how stressful hosting can be, so will be more than happy to bring something along to lighten the load.

    Just make sure you start a group chat so you can discuss what everyone’s bringing first, particularly if you're going for the buffet option. Otherwise, you could end up with eight plates of sausage rolls (although we wouldn't complain about that, personally).

  2. Come Dine With Me

    Come Dine With Me meme

    Credit: Channel 4

    Why not get a group together and take turns at hosting, Come Dine With Me-style?

    We recommend sticking to groups of around six people otherwise things start to get a bit stressful (you could even do it in three pairs, so you have a partner to help with the cost and prep).

    Taking turns like this means you get a few more dinner parties out of it (woohoo!). It also ensures that everyone is mucking in at some point, so spending is more evenly distributed, especially if you set a budget for everyone to stick to.

    You can even rate each other out of 10 at the end (as they do in the TV show) if you're getting really into things, but beware that this can lead to arguments!

  3. Ask everyone to chip in

    wolf of wall street throwing cash

    Credit: Paramount Pictures

    Asking your guests to chip in might seem a bit tight at first thought, but even if everyone just contributes a fiver, the kind of feast you can prepare will make your guests think otherwise!

    With everyone's cash combined, you'll even be able to provide the wine as well as dinner. Just make sure you ask someone to help you cart it all home from the supermarket!

  4. Serve simple food

    beans on toast at uni
    The key to a foolproof budget dinner party is to stay within your comfort zone and don’t cook anything you’ve never made before (although maybe try something a bit more adventurous than beans on toast!).

    Going in all guns blazing and deciding to rustle up paella for the first time just to impress your friends will leave you stressed to the eyeballs when your guests appear at the door.

    You'll also likely spend more cash on the ingredients than you would do with a recipe you're well-acquainted with. Stick with what you know and you're way more likely to impress!

    If you're stuck, we've got loads of simple student-friendly recipe ideas below.

  5. Prepare as much as you can in advance

    We strongly advise that you prepare everything well in advance so that any mistakes can be corrected in time.

    Leaving yourself time to fix any messes will also prevent you from having to splash out at the last minute to avoid disaster (takeaway pizza, anyone?).

    A lot of one-pot dinners (including a few from our recipes section below) taste better the longer you leave them stewing anyway, so this frees up plenty of valuable time for you to get the kitchen cleaned up and ready for your guests arriving.

  6. Fill your guests with carbs

    Oprah Winfrey bread

    Credit: Weight Watchers

    The simple fact is that carbs are cheap and filling, so the more carb-heavy your meal is, the cheaper it'll be to fill those mouths around the table!

    That's not to say you should make carbs the main focus of what you cook, but supplementing meals with bread or potatoes will mean your guests get pleasantly full a lot quicker.

  7. Check what you already have in your cupboards

    Before you make any decisions about what you'd like to prepare for your friends, don't forget to have a good scour of the fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what's already in there.

    You might realise you already have ingredients that you've been waiting for an opportunity to use up, so let what you've already got influence what you decide to make.

    If you're stuck for inspiration, have a gander at our essential apps for students – there's a great one that helps you to use up your leftovers!

  8. Borrow extra cutlery and crockery

    table filled with food plates dishes buffet
    Food isn't the only thing you've got to prepare – make sure you check you have enough cutlery, plates, glasses, chairs... the lot!

    If you're running low on something, ask to borrow from a neighbour or one of your guests, instead of splashing out and buying it new.

    If you live in halls this should be easy as pie. Otherwise, you can use this as an excuse to get to know your neighbours a little better!

  9. Shop at a market

    Heading to a local market rather than a supermarket could save you an arm and a leg if you play it right – particularly when it comes to fresh fruit and veg.

    Go near the end of the day, as this is when food is sold at a reduced price. This is also the perfect time to start haggling as market sellers tend to be a lot more flexible before they pack up for the day.

    Try to also stick with veggies that are in season – they will taste their best and be at their lowest price too!

  10. Shop around and shop smarter

    Fresh Meat JP in supermarket with friend

    Credit: Channel 4

    The worst thing you can do is to just turn up at the supermarket and grab whatever you can. For one thing, supermarkets are known for their cheeky tendency to trick shoppers into thinking they're getting a great deal when they're not.

    Secondly, shopping around can save you a bomb. Keep an eye out for any relevant student deals that pop up and try using comparison apps like MySupermarket to make sure you’re getting the best price – and if not, on to the next place!

  11. Suggest BYOB

    We all know booze ain't cheap, and often it can end up being the biggest expense of your meal. However, there's nothing worse than running out of wine at the dinner table!

    The easiest way around this is to politely suggest that everyone brings their own bottle – your mother always said not to turn up empty-handed anyway, and one bottle won't break the bank!

Cheap dinner party recipes

Great British Bake Off Nadiya Hussain cooking oven

Credit: BBC

Remember that people will have fun and appreciate your hosting skills whether you spend £10 or £40, so don’t go overboard!

Here are a few of the old team favourites here at Save the Student headquarters. All of these recipes should feed around six people.

Cheesy beano pie

cheesy pie dish

Credit: Robyn Mackenzie – Shutterstock

  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Chilli flakes
  • A sprig of thyme, leaves removed
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 tins baked beans
  • 1.5kg Maris Piper potatoes (or other good mashing potatoes)
  • Knob of butter
  • Small cup full-fat milk
  • 150g cheddar cheese, grated.

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 220°C/gas mark 7
  2. Fry your onions, garlic and a sprinkle of chilli flakes in a pan for four minutes or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and thyme leaves and continue to fry on medium heat for a further eight minutes
  3. Add the tins of beans and simmer for five more minutes, then tip the baked bean mixture into a large baking tray
  4. Quarter or chop your potatoes into equal-sized pieces and pop them into a pot of boiling, slightly salted water. Boil on medium heat for around 15 minutes or until soft
  5. Drain using a colander then leave the potatoes to dry for a minute or two in the colander before tipping back into the pot. Add a knob of butter and start mashing your potatoes, gradually adding splashes of milk as you go along and a third of your grated cheese
  6. Spread your cheesy potatoes evenly over the top of the beans right up to the edges and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is a bit crispy. Serve with salad and some garlic bread.

Build-your-own burgers

beef burger in bun

Credit: Dwa Fotografy – Shutterstock

  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1 egg
  • 6 burger buns or rolls
  • Cheese
  • Gherkins
  • Lettuce
  • Large ripe tomatoes
  • 6 large baking potatoes.

Method

  1. Place all your mince in a large bowl. Crack an egg into the mince, season with salt and pepper, then (after giving your hands a good clean) start mixing the egg into the meat with your fingers
  2. Continue mixing the mince with your fingers until you have one big ball of mince. Split the mixture into two halves, then each half into three so you have six (roughly) equal portions
  3. Roll each individual portion into a ball in your hand then flatten into a burger. Remember they will spring up a bit when you cook them, so it's better to keep them wide and flat at this stage
  4. Pop them all on a plate, cover with cling film and stick in the fridge until you're guest arrive
  5. For the chips, slice the potatoes into discs then chop those discs into chip shaped batons. Once chopped, throw them all into a pot or bowl of cold water to remove extra starch
  6. Spread the chips evenly on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30–45 minutes
  7. When your guests arrive, fry the burgers for roughly six minutes each side for well done (four minutes each side for medium-rare)
  8. Serve in burger buns with fries on the side, and lay out all the extra toppings for guests to build their burgers with whatever they like!

Spaghetti bolognese

spaghetti bolognese close up with cheese

Credit: elenamych – Shutterstock

  • 500g beef mince
  • 200g bacon bits/lardons
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Handful mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • Bay leaf (optional)
  • A small glass of milk
  • A glass of stock (chicken, veg or beef – whatever you have in your cupboard!).

Method

  1. In one pan, fry the bacon bits for a few minutes then add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and allow to soften a bit on medium heat for about 15 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan fry the beef mince for about ten mins until you can't see any pink, then start adding splashes of the milk slowly whilst stirring so the milk doesn't burn
  3. Add the veggies and mince together in whichever pan is biggest then add the stock and tinned tomatoes
  4. Season and cook for about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Vegetable Thai green curry

thai green curry bowl dinner meal

Credit: SherSor – Shutterstock

  • Aubergine/courgette/peppers/mange tout/baby sweetcorn (choose whichever four veggies you'd prefer)
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • Thai green curry paste
  • 0.5 litre vegetable stock
  • Limes
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (these can normally be found in the herbs and spices aisle, or in the freezer at any Asian food supermarket)
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Coriander
  • Rice

Method

  1. Chop all your veg into similar bite-sized chunks
  2. Heat two tablespoons of green Thai curry paste in a wok or large frying pan with some oil and after about 30 seconds of continually stirring, add half your coconut milk
  3. Add your sweet potatoes and simmer on medium heat for around five minutes
  4. Add the rest of your coconut milk, the stock and the rest of the veg (plus kaffir limes leaves whole if you have them!)
  5. Simmer for about eight minutes then remove from the heat and add a squeeze of lime, two teaspoons of sugar and a small splash of soy sauce (this will provide the seasoning you need!)
  6. To keep things easy, we'd recommend using either microwavable bags of rice or boil-in-the-bag
  7. Serve each portion with a good handful of chopped coriander to garnish and an extra wedge of lime on the side.

Homemade pizzas

home made pizza dinner food meal

Credit: De Repente – Shutterstock

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 45ml olive oil
  • 90ml warm water
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • Tomato puree
  • Grated cheese
  • Toppings of your choice!

Method

  1. Place the flour and salt in a mixing bowl
  2. Slowly mix in the olive oil and warm water to form a dough ball (if it’s too sticky, add more flour; if it’s too dry add more water – it’s trial and error with this part)
  3. Flour the kitchen surface you’ll be rolling the dough on and the rolling pin, so it doesn’t stick
  4. Roll out the dough ball to form a pizza base
  5. Place on a baking tray and cook the base in the oven for five mins on 180°C (gas mark 4)
  6. Remove the base, cover with tomato puree and top with cheese, then load up your toppings – whatever takes your fancy, or whatever you have in the fridge!
  7. Cook in the oven for a further 10–15 minutes at around 180–200°C (gas mark 5).
  8. Remove from the oven… and eat!

If you don't fancy cooking you could take a trip to your nearest all-you-can-eat buffet instead – or you could ditch the food and have a cocktail making night!