The economics of entertaining at home

Last Saturday, we hosted a dinner party at our house. There were eight people, including me and W-. For starters, we served broccoli and cauliflower crudites with blue cheese dip and home-made hummus. For the main course, we served vegetarian chili and chicken curry, accompanied by naan bread and basmati rice. People brought dessert: halva, chocolates, sesame snacks, buns, and all sorts of assorted goodies. The party went from 7:00 to 11:30 or so, and we had tons of fun chatting about storytelling, university advice, and whatever else came to mind. After the party, we had a week of leftovers to feast on. I estimate that we ate just a third of the food prepared.

Ingredients bought for the party: $52.81 total
Home ingredients used: Approximately $10 (one pack of chickpeas, half a pack of black beans, half a pack of red beans, three packs of curry paste, assorted spices)
Estimated cost of party: ~$63 / 3 (as we only ate a third of the food available) = ~$21 total, or ~$3 each

plus the cost of whatever desserts people shared, of which we probably ate a fifth. Maybe a total of $4 each, for the whole meal + desserts?

I don’t think you can find a restaurant in Toronto where people can eat such a spread for $4, or stay for so long and chat with such ease without the waiters trying to drop hints about freeing up tables. ;) Nor could you find a restaurant with such friendly cats, I think – Luke was _such_ a charmer, immediately identifying the cat fans and climbing onto their laps for a good purr.

I traded time for these savings, of course, but not as much time as one might expect. Pre-cooking the beans using a pressure cooker took up most of my Friday evening, which was a good time to relax and unwind. Chopping everything up for all the meals took an hour, and cooking both the chili and the curry took another hour and a half – during which I was learning more about cooking, thinking about what was going on in the week, and planning what I wanted to do next. (And listening to bouncy Japanese pop songs…) Time well spent.

And the conversation and company? Priceless.

If we had more chairs, or found some way to squeeze more people into the house (in an elegant way that doesn’t mean some people are privileged enough to sit at the table while everyone else just stands around ;) ),I can easily scale up. It seems that the time and money I spent on the get-together could scale up to 24 people, and even more if we decided to make it a well-organized pot-luck get-together.

What would this house look like with 24 people in it? Where would people sit? How would we deal with the coats and shoes? Someday I’ll figure that out. =)

Tonight I’m attending a dinner get-together for recent hires in my department. The pre-set menu is $30 per person. Now that I look at that sum, I’m thinking, “I could host a quite a dinner party for that amount!” ;)

  • Mel

    A related idea that’s worked quite well for me is to host dinner parties at other people’s houses. Cooking is a hobby of mine, so I ask friends and coworkers if they’d like to let me practice being their “personal chef for an evening.” I also tell them that I tend to cook for 6-12 people (I do – it’s pretty boring to grill 2 chicken breasts), and ask them to invite people they’d like to have over.

    I get to meet new people, they have an excuse to ask friends over, and I don’t need to worry about invitations or setting up the space (I’m not sure how I’d fit 24 people into my apartment either), just making food and hanging out. Usually we’ll use staple ingredients from their kitchen and I’ll bring any special ingredients myself, so the cost is low to both parties. Plus you get to have amusing conversations when you ride the train with a wok and a rice cooker…

  • And then there’s the venerable pot-luck supper. My best friends have been hosting a veggie Thanksgiving dinner on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for decades (!), usually with about 20-25 guests. They coordinate with everyone, balancing the meal content and accomodating people’s available time (“yes, you can just pick up some cider on the way over…”), it it’s always a fabulous spread at very low cost.

    Our wedding reception (~150 guests) was a coordinated potluck. (The coordination was a wedding present!)

    Entertaining at home is, I fear, becoming a lost art.