Tips for Affordable Outdoor Parties

May 9, 2011 by Amy Clark

Summer outdoor entertaining is one of our favorite things to do! We may not have the most elaborate outdoor set-up on the block, but if you’re invited to dine with us, I promise that the food will not disappoint! Creating an elegant spread on a budget can be challenging, so I’m offering a few tips for making the most of your entertaining budget in the summer months.

Embrace a DIY mentality. When you’re entertaining on a budget, you have to evaluate every aspect of food preparation. A pre-made vegetable tray, for example, costs about $10 or $12, but making one at home costs about $5. To add a professional element to your dinner table, purchase new deli platters from a party supply store (or save old ones) and add them to your entertaining supplies. These sturdy, inexpensive trays are wonderful for your own hosting and when taking platters to friends’ outdoor parties.

Cut down on drink expenses. Drinks can add a lot to your entertaining budget. That’s why we rely on a big bowl of punch or pitchers of lemonade to save on this category. For a fun twist on drinks, I serve root beer floats in frosty mugs that I found at the local dollar store. It’s easy to spend $20 or more on beverages, but with a little creativity, you can reduce this expense greatly!

Shop smart. Keep meals affordable and displays fresh by offering seasonal fruit and vegetable platters that can be snacked on while the meat is on the grill. Shopping in season and visiting your farmer’s market can shave a lot off your budget. I also love to visit the wholesale club to buy fruit, bakery items, crackers, meat, and cheese in bulk to keep costs low.

Budget-friendly elements make a splash. Colorful, seasonal plastic ware is on full display this time of year and adds sparkle to outdoor entertaining! For a fun alternative, consider burger baskets instead of traditional plastic plates. They add a little retro whimsy to outdoor entertaining. I found mine at a local restaurant supply store, where I also picked up a package of delicatessen paper to line the basket interiors. The kids love having friends over and loading their baskets with hot dogs and burgers off the grill.

I’m really not a fan of paper plates and one-time-use party products. I also hate the heavy bulk of regular dishes at an outdoor party. Inexpensive plastics offer a great alternative and are sturdier than paper. (They’re also a nod to my love of all things diner and retro.) We use our plastic ware all summer long.

Prep ahead and keep it simple. For me, the real key to a fantastic barbecue is a lot of preparation and a few simple dishes. I try to do as much prep ahead of time as I can; all dishes are clearly labeled so everyone knows what they’re filling their plates with; the dishwasher is emptied for easy loading; and plenty of seating is ready for guests to sit back and enjoy the lazy summer day. The more you prepare ahead of time, the more you’ll really enjoy the fun when your guests arrive.

It’s no secret that I rely heavily on my slow cooker for entertaining! Slow cookers keep your house nice and cool. Mine is the perfect alternative for a fast weeknight meal when I’d rather spend the day at the beach or park with my kids than fussing with meal preparation. There’s nothing like spending a lazy day poolside and going home to a meal that’s fully cooked and ready when we walk through the door! What makes this pulled pork recipe special is the slow cooking of the pork in a little “hot-tub” bath of root beer. After a quick drain and the easiest meat shredding of your life, toss meat with your favorite barbecue sauce and serve on a crusty roll.

Perfectly Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Adapted from All Recipes)

  • 4-pound Boston butt (or pork shoulder)
  • 12-ounce can or bottle of root beer
  • 18-ounce bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 8 hamburger buns, split and lightly toasted

Place the meat in a slow cooker; pour root beer over the meat. Cover and cook on low until well cooked and the pork shreds easily (I cook for eight hours). Shred the meat; drain the root beer from the slow cooker. Stir in barbecue sauce and mix gently. Serve over hamburger buns with root beer floats.

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark has been the driving force behind MomAdvice since 2004. In addition to running a successful community for women and running after her two kids, she has appeared on The Early Show, and in Parents magazine, Redbook, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, MSN Money and The New York Times.