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Need help with a 60 person cocktail party on a budget!

f
fattychalupa May 18, 2011 08:50 PM

My sister's friend who is going to be married is hosting a cocktail party for those who cannot make the wedding, and lucky me my sister volunteered me to cater the event. Don't get me wrong- I love to cook and am totally willing to do it but I'm finding it hard to see eye to eye when it comes to their allotted budget. I remember a Top Chef episode where the contestants somewhat successfully catered a high end 60 person cocktail party for 60 people on $350, but the part of my situation that is somewhat irritating me is the fact that
- the party includes 60 people
- it going to last for 3 hours during the evening when most people would usually eat dinner, which means most likely the food must be substantial enough to serve as a meal
-the budget has to include decorations/ambiance
-the budget moreover is also including all of the drinks!#@*$!

As a result i gave what I thought was a conservative estimate of $10/person, which I thought was actually on the cheaper side, which my sister automatically ruled out as too expensive, so I'm going to have to stay around $400.

Right now the only strategies I can think of so far are:

- leaning towards cheaper proteins: flank steak and chicken thighs instead of breasts for kebabs
- definitely NOT stocking a full bar- I'll most likely have 3 choices of cocktails that I'll make beforehand and shake with ice during the party upon request
- I know for a cocktail party with such a large amount of people one should maybe have around 8-10 different choices but do you think I could save some bucks by limiting the selection down to 5-6?
-This is supposed to be a special event, I know, but I honestly don't think there's a way to reasonably rent or include actual glass/stemware, any utensils or tablecloths. It's definitely going to have to be plastic/disposable drinkware and paper tablecloths
-Luckily I just invested in a lot of outdoor decorations including battery operated lanterns, cafe lights, candles, and a firepit, so most of the decor should be covered
-since I plan on bringing over a portable firepit, I might make a platter for DIY s'mores to offset a possibly small volume of desserts

Any other tips you guys might have to help me out?

  1. p
    PotatoPuff Jun 24, 2011 04:28 PM

    Lemon water is cheap and elegant hummus is also good and cheap

    1. n
      ninrn Jun 14, 2011 12:13 AM

      Hey FC,

      How'd it go?

      1. f
        fattychalupa Jun 2, 2011 11:47 PM

        Some of you have asked me to keep this thread updated, so here goes:

        Tuesday:
        -bride felt lukewarm about the haute pocket idea, so on the fly I came up with crostini topped with caramelized onion jam, a slice of steak and topped with bleu cheese, which she loved, though next time I probably shouldn't experiment with a recipe when dealing with client

        -made carrot cakes and cupcakes and stashed them in the freezer 1) so they don't dry out and 2) so the cakes would be easier to split in half

        -grocery shopped for the dessert items; finalized menu

        -made cream cheese frosting; stashed that in the fridge

        -Final Cost for Desserts: $38.55

        Wednesday:
        -lazy day afternoon, began working on a painting and then painted an address placard for the house

        Today:
        -went shopping at sam's club, then albertsons

        -picked up REAL tablecloths because I can't stand the look of paper disposables (I subtracted the cost of these since I was planning on keeping them for myself)

        -bought 4 lb of shrimp- might not sound like alot but they were 70-90 a pound, and i plan on putting one shrimp per skewer along with a cherry tomato and a bocconcini

        -made the walnut cookies (recipe from Simply Recipes)

        -The vietnamese bbq was scrapped in favor of the original idea of Korean BBQ since the restaurant was swamped- Fine by me because there is a Little Korea in my area with a plethora of markets that sell pre-marinated beef. After calling ahead to my local H-Mart (a Korean supermarket chain) to ensure they had atleast 9 pounds of beef, I headed over there. Before I put in my order at $5.99 a pound I did a quick search (thank you Yelp app) to see if there were any other places around me, and lo and behold just down the street there was a smaller market that had the same exact marinated rib-eye for $2.99/lb... Score....

        -Cooked the bulgogi

        -Made the Artichoke Dip; marinated the shrimp (loosely followed a recipe from Ina garten)

        -Caramelized the onions and seared the steak

        Current total: $211.48

        Tomorrow I have to
        -go to the house early to set up and see what I'm working with
        -last minute shopping, including plastic cocktail cups/napkins
        -call around asking if there's any old flowers I can take
        -make the champagne cocktail (which I decided to be the only cocktail of the night, as beer bought by the couple will also be served)
        -toast the crostini
        -cook the shrimp
        -assemble the shrimp skewers

        All in all the whole process was a lot more easier than I expected, due to the fact that I drastically altered the menu to only 4 savory items (one which was mostly pre-made), 3 desserts (one is just assembling a s'mores platter), and one cocktail, and as a result i should be well under budget, all thanks in a part to all of your recommendations

        However, one last set of questions for my CHOW friends:
        -what's an "elegant" (a.k.a. less casual) way to present what is essentially chip and dip?
        -would serving ice in a champagne punch type of cocktail be a travesty?
        -the bulgogi meat right now seems a bit thin to skewer: with the extra money would a lettuce wrap with some shavings of radish and carrot be a better option?
        -what's an elegant, non-messy to present skewered items?

        4 Replies
        1. re: fattychalupa
          danna Jun 3, 2011 06:50 AM

          Thanks for keeping us posted. I'm rooting for you to come out of this with a profit, not to mention all this great experience!

          dip - Does it have to be kept warm? If so, I cant think of anything other than renting/borrowing a pretty chaffing dish. If not...I like the look of varying levels on a buffet table. You could wrap a box in a tablecloth, put the dip on top of that, then arrange the chips in baskets around the base.

          What kind of glass are you serving the champagne punch in? If a flute, I don't think I would use ice, but if it's a highball, I think Ice would be fine. Like a French 75. I would try to use decent ice (actual cubes, not bagged ice) if possible.

          Do you have attractive skerwers? how long are they? Could you line a narrow rectangular plate with butter lettuce leaves, then line up the skwers with the ends hanging off the plate for easy pick-up? Then garnish w/ your radish and carrot shavings.

          You're skewering the shrimp as well? If you want to get crazy with it...you could try to do the skewers vertically. Like anchor a 3/4 head of cabbage on the plate, then stab the skewers in.

          Or, try my ice bowl idea from above, but make it an ice platter. Should keep the shrimp nice and cold.

          Keep us posted!

          1. re: fattychalupa
            Terrie H. Jun 3, 2011 07:02 AM

            Some ideas I've seen and used:

            Freeze fruit -- berries, cubes of peaches or watermelon -- whatever works for the punch. They will do the same work as an ice cube but look pretty.

            Another use for the watermelon - a halved watermelon, flesh side down, is a beautiful way to present skewers --- stick the points of the skewers into the watermelon. You could get 3 or 4 of these presentation surfaces from a small melon and still have the flesh to make your ice cubes.

            1. re: fattychalupa
              a
              annabananaoc Jun 3, 2011 01:42 PM

              First of all, you are AMAZING. I'm sure your family is so proud of you and your awesome knowledge and skills about food and catering. I hope you have people to help you out that day. Heck, I'd help you if I could - you are truly inspirational.

              Ok - down to business.

              I would sprinkle rose petals around the food table for a pretty and festive effect - so double up the petals around the chip and dip platter to dress it up . You can call your local Albertson's, Ralph's or other big supermarket that has a florist and ask them for free rose petals. They usually will give them to you if you ask in advance.

              I've also put chips in a nice, napkin-lined basket to dress it up more.

              If the champagne punch isn't being served in champagne glasses, then I say, go for the ice. I don't think most people would even think twice about it - they'd probably be more happy that there's ice esp. if it's a hot day/night.

              The bulgogi meat lettuce wrap sounds delish - I would totally go with that over the skewers esp b/c you are already have the shrimp skewer. This will add more substance to this app. You can also add a "Kogi" spin to it by chopping up the meat, mixing it with the radish and carrot and maybe a bit of cabbage and drizzle a sesame/korean chili dressing over the whole thing.

              I would add a layer of Italian parsley or green lettuce under the skewers for some color.

              nother way to dress up the food presentation is to buy a container of ABC cookies/crackers from Trader Joe's (about $2.50) and use the letters to spell "JOY", "LOVE, "FAITH", etc. on the food platters. I did this for some of my parties and it looked so pretty and fun at the same time.

              You can also make name cards for each app - use some real fancy font and give cool names for your apps.

              Enjoy!

              1. re: annabananaoc
                Phurstluv Jun 24, 2011 04:51 PM

                Great ideas you have, annabananaoc! Esp the words spelled w cookies and the rose petals for free at a grocery florist, I will use that next time!

            2. Niblet May 24, 2011 08:42 AM

              You're how old?! I'm impressed with your menu, obvious ability, and the faith they have in you.

              Just a few thoughts:
              1) See who is willing to bring around platters of food as it comes out of the oven during the party. You can always find people who are happy to do this.

              2) Minimize the food that needs to be heated as much as possible. It's going to get hot in that kitchen, people will invariably congregate there, and if you only have 1 or 2 hot items to worry about you may be able to enjoy the party a bit yourself. A crudite platter and other items that you can set up before the party and leave out at room temperature will save you tons of work and stress.

              3) Obvious: set up tables/stations in different areas for food, and have separate tables for the drinks, else everyone bunches up at one or two spots.

              4) Consider renting a couple of steam tables/warmers. Then your "servers" can deposit the warm food here after making rounds.

              5) As much ice as you think you need, double it. There is never enough ice. Agree with above poster to ask friends and family to bring coolers for the ice, with a few bags of ice inside. Also borrow pitchers for the drinks. People always have these pitchers around and will be happy for the rare chance to actually have them used!

              6) Put small bottles of water in one of the coolers. Guests are always psyched when there's water. (you can tell by that word that I'm much older than you!)

              7) In addition to plates, cups, utensils, napkins...don't forget serving pieces (tongs, large spoons and forks).

              I also love ninrn's suggestion about arranging free/cheap flowers in exchange for a card promoting the source. Businesses are often happy to have the unexpected advertising opportunity, and you have additional advantage of being young and ambitious which will amuse and impress them. You'll find it very satisfying to make a deal like this. Who knows, maybe the steam tables could be arranged similarly.

              Also I love your idea of DIY s'mores. That sounds really fun. Best wishes for a successful party!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Niblet
                f
                fattychalupa May 31, 2011 12:33 PM

                With the party just a couple days away, here is the final menu:

                -Spinach Artichoke Dip (bride's request)

                -Haute Pockets: Puff Pastry squares filled with caramelized onions, gruyere, and roasted red peppers- thinking about making these ahead of time and freezing, and then baking the morning of

                -Shrimp skewers: marinated in mustard/garlic/herbs: because U-15 shrimp would be way too expensive I'll be using a smaller variety, and perhaps skewering them with cherry tomatoes and basil to make almost a salad type of hors d'oeuvre

                -Vietnamese Grilled Pork (Thit Nuong): I can have our family's restaurant make this for me which is a huge help. (And the best part is it'll be free) Will either do skewers or some sort of lettuce wrap

                -DIY Smores

                -Mexican Wedding Cookies: Last minute request of the bride: because of this I decided to axe my originally intended Lychee-Pomegranate Panna Cotta (a bit disappointing because i was really looking forward to making it but at the same time it is for the better since it is a huge space taker in the fridge, the layered effect is time consuming, and pomegranate juice is downright friggin expensive)

                -Orange Scented Carrot Cake (bride's request): one 9 inch round decorated like a wedding cake and 30 or so cupcakes

                Any other suggestions are still appreciated!

                1. re: fattychalupa
                  GretchenS May 31, 2011 12:54 PM

                  Sounds fantastic. You can definitely make the haute pockets ahead and bake the morning of, but season aggressively, they loose a bit of oomph in the freezer -- or at least, the ones I make with mushrooms or spanakopita filling do. And second the idea that you can ask people to loan pitchers because so many of us have them and hardly ever use them. Good luck and have fun, I think it sounds like a yummy party!

              2. e
                escondido123 May 21, 2011 08:55 PM

                My only comment is that I think you are getting somewhere by limiting the selection--larger quantity of fewer things. Once you prep a dish it's easy to do more. Every new dish has that extra prep before you even start making it. As to cocktails, why have three? Forget mojitos that need last minute muddling, choose the easiest "signature" cocktail--though honestly I see no reason to have one--and then just beer and wine--there is no need for a full bar! I would say nix the firepit and s'mores...I just see that as disaster in the making. You are a wonderful guy for doing this, but please find ways to make it easy on yourself.

                1. f
                  fattychalupa May 21, 2011 06:01 PM

                  I forgot to mention this before, but the party will be taking place at the couple's house- Both the kitchen and backyard are small to say the least, meaning that

                  1) the party will most likely be focused all throughout the house since everyone can't fit in the backyard
                  2) Most of the cooking will be done in my kitchen (which I prefer) during the week, stored in bags, and then assembled/reheated at the party

                  I've sent a tentative menu to the coupel for them to pick and choose what they would like to have- all of the selections are mostly things that I can make during the week leading up to the party or atleast the morning of the party.

                  -Rosemary roasted cashews
                  -spinach artichoke dip
                  -roasted shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce
                  -some sort of pulled pork and coleslaw appetizer (trying to think of an easy way to serve this- either small sandwiches or a type of toast or crostini)
                  - some sort of chicken salad in wonton cups
                  -steak panini with roasted peppers and pesto (leaning away from this as it would take up too much time beforehand)
                  -Small BLAT sandwiches with basil mayo (if they choose this hopefully i'll find a way to make it beforehand)
                  -"haute pockets" : saw this on foodnetwork one time- puff pastry squares which I'll fill with bacon, cheese, and onions
                  -One-bite Skewers and kabobs: I usually don't like to do this but i'll have to cook the meat during the week and skewer them the day of the party to reheat in the oven/chafing dishes. Thinking of korean bulgogi, flank steak with zucchini, and mustard-garlic-herb chicken
                  -some type of sticky wings i'll make during the week and heat beforehand as well
                  -Chorizo and potato empanadas
                  -fresh fruit platter
                  -lychee pomegranate panna cotta
                  -DIY smores bar
                  -assorted cookies and bakery items I'll buy
                  -mini chocolate tiramisu cups
                  -cups layered with almond cake, chocolate mousse, and berries

                  And also I sent them some alcoholic and nonalcoholic cocktail suggestions
                  -Fresh Strawberry Lemonade
                  -Pomegranate Cosmopolitans
                  -Raspberry Mojitos
                  -Passion Fruit and Peach Coolers
                  -Tropical Champagne Punch

                  As a result of the smallish kitchen I will be working in and the sheer amount of food being done by one person I've axed any thing that needs to be made or served immediately, and I'm going to try to fit in the cost of renting chafing dishes into the budget as I'm not sure the couple's oven is equipped to heat food for a 60 person party. They have requested however for spinach artichoke dip and a carrot cake that I've been making for a couple years now that I've adapted from Ina Garten's recipe- one round one that I'll decorate to look like a traditional wedding cake and then another batch for cupcakes.

                  Now what I do need help with which I hope you guys can answer is:
                  -what's a cost-effective way to serve all this food buffet style? This isn't a backyard bbq where I use disposable foil pans
                  -This might sound stupid, but after mixing the cocktails the morning of the party, what's a good way to store/dispense them? I don't plan on buying 3 $20 beverage dispensers just to be used once.
                  -The come and go concept is really giving me a headache on how much food/drink to make. I'm guessing each person will stay for an hour (hour and a half max), so I was planning on 8-10 pieces each. How many drinks should I assume per person?
                  -How much ice should I get per person, and what's a good way to store it during the day? I don't have time to buy ice an hour before the party, since I assume I'll be busy getting everything ready.

                  And as a final note- the party will be in 2 weeks, and while I will try to keep all of you up to date as much as I can most of the time I'm too lazy or just too busy to take pictures while I cook or during the event. Its probably the main reason why I stopped writing a blog that I started a year back

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: fattychalupa
                    n
                    ninrn May 23, 2011 04:32 PM

                    FC:

                    If you have a candy-making supply store nearby they usually sell more attractive disposable serving ware than the foil pans you don't like. You can also go to a discount hardware store and get some ceramic tiles for your dry canape's and crudite'. They should cost $2 -$3 /ea.

                    I'd say assume 3 drinks per person and you should be fine. Don't make more than two alcoholic drinks or many people will feel the need to drink more just to sample all your creations.

                    If you can, borrow punch bowls. If not, buy/borrow one large pitcher for each cocktail.

                    Start now and make batches and batches of ice cubes made out of the cocktails you'll be serving and store them in labeled plastic bags. Start out the party by making a fresh batch of cocktails in your containers, with just a few cubes of frozen cocktail cubes tossed in to keep them cold, then keep adding the frozen cubes to fill up the pitchers when they're about half empty. Keeping the bulk of the cocktails and lemonade as frozen cubes will let you keep store them without having to take up precious fridge space (you'll have to use a cooler unless they'll empty their freezer out for the day) and it will keep the cocktails from getting diluted. Just don't make the drinks too strong as the alcohol will inhibit freezing. (If you have to you can always add a shot or two of liquor to each pitcher when you refill them with the frozen drink cubes. ) I don't know that you'll have to buy plain ice for drinks if you do this. You can always get two bags to be on the safe side and store them in one of your coolers, but they won't last all day this way. Couldn't someone be assigned to bring a couple of bags of ice for you right before the event? Three large picnic coolers, even the styrofoam kind, will help you out a lot.

                    Best,
                    Ninrn

                    1. re: ninrn
                      Phurstluv Jun 24, 2011 04:39 PM

                      What a great idea! Thanks for sharing this, ninrn!

                    2. re: fattychalupa
                      danna May 24, 2011 07:37 AM

                      It may be too late, but I wouldn't give the couple that list the way it is. Divide it into sections and let them choose one from each. Have you added up the cost of shrimp? a very expensive option. And cashews? Just call it "rosemary roasted nuts" and then buy whatever is cheapest when you shop.

                      How about borrowning serving platters and pitchers from the parents of the bride/groom? They souldn't mind, given the massive bargain they're getting here.

                      Ice...borrow a big cooler from sister or b&g, fill with bags of ice that morning. It should be fine.

                      If you're still doing the decor, let me tell you about my favorite trick: I go to fabric shops and look for a remnant bolt or two of white liner cloth. I aim to spent $1 a yard. Cut to fit tables w/ sheers (no hemming) Then I find a fabric I love that may cost a little more, but not too much. Cut it in strips to make runers for each table. Throw away when the party is over. If you do wind up using paper plates and flatware, then the whole table can be wrapped up and hit the trash in a big bundle.

                      And ice bowls! A bit of a pain to make, and possibly a logistical problem, but google Martha Stewart ice bowls....you shove herbs and flowers into the ice before it freeze. You get a "free" bowl of the size you want, and when the party is over, the whole bowl can get tossed over the pasture fence (or whatever your local equivilent is) no clean up required.

                      Do keep us posted. You're brave.

                    3. f
                      fattychalupa May 20, 2011 04:04 PM

                      First of all, thank you all for your advice and suggestions: I will definitely be taking them into account. I'm actually a graduating high school senior, and am my sister's little brother, and have been cooking for the quite a long time actually.

                      I've just talked to the couple and they have cleared up a few things and I have to admit my original post definitely made the situation far worse than it really is once I was told of all the details:
                      -the couple will be paying for all of the alcohol, which I was not informed of until yesterday
                      -the party will still be for 3 hours with the same number of guests at the same time. However, the bride has made it clear that the party isn't meant to be a replacement for a meal, but more like a pre-dinner affair. She believes that guests will be stopping by for at the most an hour and then heading off to dinner on their own. While this definitely eases the situation, it does complicate the estimates of how much food I need to make

                      Again, thank you for all of your suggestions, and to clear things up if I felt that this would've been too much work or that I was in some way being taken advantage of I would've told them to hire a caterer a long time ago

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: fattychalupa
                        n
                        ninrn May 20, 2011 11:20 PM

                        Best of luck to you, Chalupa. Hope it works out really well. I'm sure you'll make your big sister very proud. Post and let us know what you made and how it went when you have a chance.

                        -Ninrn

                        PS: This is a website that has links to a lot of large-quantity recipes. Even though the recipes are pretty basic, it's very helpful for gauging how much you need to buy of each ingredient to serve X number of people and so on. <http://lotsofinfo.tripod.com/>

                        PPS: National BROTHER'S Day is March 13th, so your sister has an extra seven months to come up with something really nice.

                        1. re: fattychalupa
                          cowboyardee May 20, 2011 11:56 PM

                          That changes things. $400 for appetizers and hors d'oeuvres for 60 people isn't so bad.

                          I don't know if you still would like any suggestions, but if you do answering a few questions would help:

                          -Does that still include decorations?

                          -Are you expected to be compensated for your work from that amount?

                          -Since you never mentioned it (that I saw), what type of food are you looking to serve? Leaning toward any theme or style of cooking?

                          -What cooking facilities do you have available to you?

                          Good luck

                          1. re: fattychalupa
                            b
                            berkleybabe May 21, 2011 02:31 PM

                            Wow, I'm impressed with your skills and experience as a senior! They're lucky to have you! Let us know how it goes, Ok?

                          2. The Chowhound Team May 20, 2011 05:54 AM

                            Folks, we've removed some posts offering relationship advice from this thread. We try to keep the focus on this site on chow, and if you don't agree with the premise of this thread, please move on to another topic. We ask everyone to keep responses here focused on budget-friendly party foods. Thanks.

                            1. t
                              tastesgoodwhatisit May 19, 2011 09:42 PM

                              I think you could lower the number of selections if you increase the amount of each selection - over three hours, with alcohol, five bite sized appetizers wouldn't be enough.

                              Are you looking for an appetizer style party, where things like veggies and dip are appropriate, or are you doing more of a classic cocktail party, with bit sized hors d'oeuvres? The former is probably easier on a cheap budget. For the latter, your best bet would be to use premium ingredients sparingly, and resign yourself to doing a lot of work to save money.

                              For individual items, devilled eggs are cheap and filling. You could do something with pre-made puff pastry sheets which would stretch the ingredients a long way - say, filling with a bit of goat cheese and a piece of roasted red pepper, or cheese and black olive tapenade (making your own tapenade and roasting your own peppers to save money).

                              Sliced sausages, grilled and topped with a bit of mustard, served with toothpicks. Small skewers of chicken thigh satay, cream cheese stuffed cherry tomatoes, home-made chicken liver pate on crackers, braised pork belly bites wrapped in lettuce, deep fried stuffed wontons (buy wrappers at a Chinese grocery).

                              For drinks, definitely go with a selection of pre-prepped drinks, and make them pretty weak. Sangria and a white wine spritzer could go a long way.

                              1. e
                                escondido123 May 19, 2011 08:35 PM

                                I think the sad part about so many of the recipe choices is that they are light on cost but heavy on labor. It's like we tend to think that the way to save money is to put the value of your efforts at as close to zero as possible.

                                1. Terrie H. May 19, 2011 08:33 PM

                                  Here are a few additional ideas for you - nothing fancy or new, but inexpensive and popular:

                                  Gougeres - the choux paste is really inexpensive to make, and a small amount of very flavorful cheese (gruyere, gorgonzola, parmesan) goes far to make them addictive. You could also make them plain and fill with a little egg, ham, tuna, or chicken salad. They can be made a day ahead and briefly warmed and turn out fine.

                                  Mini biscuits - either regular or sweet potato biscuits spread with a little honey mustard and a small slice of good ham, or filled with a little ham salad. Very inexpensive and sweet potato biscuits are tasty, attractive and forgiving because the texture is a little softer.

                                  Instead of the usual ranch dip for crudites, consider a bagna cauda (olive oil, garlic and anchovy dip) if you have a fondue pot to keep it warm. Delicious, more interesting and quite inexpensive.

                                  Serving seafood on that budget sounds close to impossible, but making a shrimp dip/spread/"pate" with a cream cheese base would give the sense that there is a seafood dish without the large expense.

                                  Four oz. of smoked salmon, a small bunch of dill and a jar of capers can decorate the top of 3 dozen devilled eggs to make them worthy of a cocktail party.

                                  Hope something here helps. Good luck!

                                  1. Tom P May 19, 2011 06:36 PM

                                    One great idea a friend of mine does that people LOVE and is very cool:

                                    She makes a big chinese chicken salad, which is not too expensive to make. Then she buys little chinese food containers and chop sticks (also cheap) and puts them to the side of the salad. So you serve the salad into the small container and can carry it around and eat it with the chopsticks.

                                    1. TSAW May 19, 2011 05:39 PM

                                      It sounds like you don't mind and have agreed to accept the challenge. So I'm not sure why people are calling you a doormat and giving you grief, insteading of providing positive helpful suggestions. It's a challenge for sure, but you can make it work if your sister if willing to give a little on what's expected given the budget.

                                      - consider doing a punch instead of cocktails or a spiked lemonade or ice tea

                                      - a big cheap piece of meat will go along way. A pork butt or beef roast slow cooked served on mini-buns

                                      - meatballs are old fashioned but everyone loves them. I fancy them up by chopping in water chestnut for crunch and glazing, after cooked, with a melted apricot jam/cider vinegar mix

                                      - various crostinis are cheap (top withroasted veggie, cheese, bean spread)

                                      - veggies and dip are good, except make them upscale but putting them in short glasses of various sizes. Keep it simple like carrots, snow peas and radishes

                                      - Cucumber sliced thicker, dig out a small hole and fill with a store bought hummous

                                      - instead of kabobs do mini satay sticks. One thin slice of meat per stick. with side of peanut dip.

                                      - Mini stuffed potatoes. They are a bit of a pain to make and dig out but simply stuffed with cheese and topped with chives make them so affordable. You could probably make 100 for $8

                                      - Mini cupcakes. One recipe goes along way and can be made and frozen in advance

                                      - make a massive rice pudding and divide it up into clear plastic 'shot' glasses from your dollar store

                                      Before going with disposable drinkware, I would ask friends and family if you could borrow any cheap wine glasses. They won't match but will still be nicer than plastic. You will probably have to go with paper plates, but check out your local dollar store for the plastic kind in nice colors. Don't get those dreadful white styrofoam ones if you can help it.

                                      Someone else suggested checking with a florist for the old flowers. I did this and got a bunch of old roses of various colors. They looked fine but were only good for a day. I just cut them off the stem and floated them in small clear bowls with a floating candle in the middle, set strategically around the food area.

                                      Good luck! And you are a GREAT sister!

                                      1. n
                                        ninrn May 19, 2011 03:53 PM

                                        I used to have to do this sort of event as part of my job years ago with a similar budget. Two things I learned are that, unless they're all hard-core foodies, (A) people want atmosphere more than food at this sort of event, and (B) the appearance of abundance is better and more festive than having limited amounts of more sophisticated stuff to eat.

                                        My first thought on reading your post is is to ask if there's any way your sister's friend can shift the hours a bit and make it a dessert reception with coffee and a brandy or rum punch. You can pull off something really fabulous for 60 people for $400 that way.

                                        Otherwise, I'd go with a large spread of mostly cold stuff -- various breads, crackers and cheeses, vegetables and a couple of dips, a lot of colorful fruit -- and I'd spend my energy on just two great hot apps and some killer brownies cut into small elegant little squares (maybe with a little decoration on the top of each). For drinks, I'd keep it really simple, too, --- one special cocktail, a pitcher of gin and tonics with lots of fresh lime and an iced tea or lemonade for non-drinkers. That way really hungry people could put together sandwiches, fruit and dessert, and others could just pick at stuff all evening.

                                        If you don't have a Cost-Co membership, get someone who does to take you right away and case out what they've got. In addition to being a good place to get fruit, breads and meat for your event, CostCo has a lot of bulk pre-prepared appetizer-y stuff that's cheap and actually tastes quite good. Their frozen mini-quiches, for example, are delicious and could save you lots of time.

                                        Last, I'd definitely allocate at least $60 for additional table accessories and flowers because I think a beautiful table will be as important as food in this context. Talk to a florist early. If you tell them your dilemma, most good florists can tell you what flowers they can offer you for next to nothing because they'd be thrown out anyway, and it's cheaper if you work your color theme around the flowers rather than trying to do it the other way around. Depending on where you live, someone might even donate arrangements if you offer to lay out business cards and put up a small placard saying 'these gorgeous flowers were provided by so-and-so' . Just one or two really nice arrangements can raise the tone of the whole evening.

                                        I know all this is probably way more basic food-wise than what you had in mind, but I promise simple, ample and perfect is better than stressed out and fancy with lots of room for disaster.

                                        Best of luck. I hope it goes off perfectly.

                                        PS: You might want to let your sister know that National Sister's Day is August 7th, so she can start planning your present now. ; -)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ninrn
                                          HillJ May 19, 2011 03:54 PM

                                          ninrn, I love that last thought!

                                        2. k
                                          katecm May 19, 2011 10:14 AM

                                          I'd consider changing from kabob to satay with the chicken thighs. The thin cut will quickly render the fat and the meat will be great.

                                          Don't worry about 8-10 options. 5-6 is plenty. I bet you could find a pork butt for a really good price. Braise the crap out of it, shred it, mix it with hoisin sauce, put it in filo cups (you can make a lot of your own filo cups out of one box of filo), top with a sliver of shallot, and that's going to be good and filling. A dollop of garlicky white bean dip served on top of a potato chip is amusing and still elegant, and beans are cheap.

                                          And for the s'mores, I have fun be allowing people to choose candy bars instead of plain Hershey's. See if you can get Halloween sized Reese's cups, Mounds bars, etc. Should only cost a few bucks, and that way there's enough variety that people feel like it's a special treat.

                                          1. s
                                            S_K May 18, 2011 09:28 PM

                                            Your sister will do this again and again and think she is doing you a favour if you don't explain the matter to her and ask her to never volunteer you again without discussing it with you first. To be fair, the quote should come with conditions right from the beginning. Oh well, lesson learned for next time...

                                            I totally agree with your proposed changes. You can also be honest with the couple and say 'due to budget, this is what we're going to have to go with, do you have your own plates, glassware you would like to use instead of disposables?' And you can say, 'these are the choices of alcohol/menu for the budget given (and you can give A & B options for the price point), if you want THIS list (C & D), then you have spend this much more.' I think it's perfectly reasonable to say those things. You aren't telling them they're cheap or taking away from what you can do, you're saying, this is the budget and this is what you get for this price point.

                                            Also, not quite sure of your menu yet, but I'm pretty sure if you post your thoughts on menu and what you're leaning towards, everyone can chime in with ideas and cost savings. :D I'm not sure of the theme, flavours you're going for, just how casual this will feel, etc.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: S_K
                                              c
                                              ceekskat May 19, 2011 04:42 PM

                                              "You can also be honest with the couple and say 'due to budget, this is what we're going to have to go with, do you have your own plates, glassware you would like to use instead of disposables?' And you can say, 'these are the choices of alcohol/menu for the budget given (and you can give A & B options for the price point), if you want THIS list (C & D), then you have spend this much more.' "

                                              Agree...this is key. Let the bride know what to expect given the budget!

                                              1. re: S_K
                                                b
                                                berkleybabe May 21, 2011 02:26 PM

                                                Agree! You can easily spend $300 on the booze alone. I'd suggest a wine only event with a couple hot and mostly cold hors d"oeuvres. A friend and I once did a $5/head for 150 people --- wraps, dips, cheese and fruit board, Costco brownie bites. Frankly it's an unrealistic budget - don't go into hock for it otherwise they'll ask you again.

                                              2. THewat May 18, 2011 09:09 PM

                                                Huh. I've just been reading the meal for $1 / person thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/735189 - you might skim for inspiration.
                                                deviled eggs or spanish tortilla (an egg choice
                                                )bites of polenta with a dollop of something on top (a corn choice)
                                                great dips with bread & crudites (white bean / eggplant / yogurt / chickpea / salsa...)
                                                Kabobs if you can swing the price
                                                Something rice based?
                                                Some form of pasta
                                                A lentil salad kind of a thing?
                                                I bet you get some great suggestions!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: THewat
                                                  e
                                                  escondido123 May 18, 2011 09:20 PM

                                                  We're talking a cocktail party for 60. I don't think the meal for $1 people are having drinks.

                                                  1. re: escondido123
                                                    THewat May 18, 2011 09:43 PM

                                                    No, but once you buy the drinks using that budget, you're down to precious little for food / person. I think the wisdom may carry over: think egg, rice, bean, pasta, corn...

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