I know. It sounds cray, right? Host a salon for under $100 in the era of crippling inflation? But it’s doable! Promise. Obviously we aren’t talking salons on steroids for the masses but rather an intimate salon for 10 or so friends. You’ve got this. Salon-ing on a budget is totally doable for small groups, especially if you gently ask your kind guests to contribute liquids. We don’t recommend this budget for groups of more than 10, but fortune favors the bold and sometimes I can pull off 20 guests for $100, so see what you can do with little help from your friends. Read on below to learn how to shop smart, prep easy-to-serve items, and wow wow wow your guests by emphasizing delicious simplicity with your menu. Get everyone sated and happy and host an outstanding evening without overextending ourselves?! Yes we can.
- Vast dinner plates are no one’s friends. Little plates, however, hullo! (See the photo below, little plates, big eggs.) Perhaps you have seemingly useless tea cups and saucers lying around. Wonderful! The saucers are great itty bitty plates for appetizer bites. The tea cups (or demitasse) finally have a use to hold shots of a hot or cold soup. Small plates equal small helpings and less waste so your food will last longer. All of these can be found at charity stores for very little investment. And hey, for the naysayers, fine, go help yourself to seconds.
- Carbs are filling so make a few one pan carb dishes. Baked Pasta, Potato Dauphinoise, rib-sticking dishes. Buy vegetables in bulk, and don’t buy pre-cut veggies, they’re expensive and will cut into your budget. Save that money for a protein. While I love fish, it’s not the choice when you’re on a budget. But roast chicken? Fantastic! Roast up a mess of crispy skin thighs and your guests and your wallet will be smiling.
- Pudding and Dessert. I rarely make dessert but you’re going to be a better host than me and I bet you’ll serve something sweet at the end of the meal and your guests will love you for it. Wonderful! Ask them to bring a pint of ice cream or something sweet and immediately your salon overhead will plummet. Contributions make everyone happy and feel part of the experience.
In terms of what sort of dishes give you the most bang for your buck, I recommend one pot dishes like a fancy take on mac & cheese. Crispy skin chicken thighs, wings and legs can go a long way, and spicy roasted cauliflower is great for the vegetarians or vegan crowd. You can do something like a coq au vin or a boeuf bourguignon, which are both have minimal ingredients, are great to do a day in advance and heat up beautifully. I keep bags of grains and beans lying around for last minute, filling salads.
With a cheaper cut of meat like pork shoulder, you can create a mouth-watering mini pulled pork sandwich platter. Sliders are also a great option and work well with both burgers, although we recommend putting these items out later so they don’t get scarfed down straight away. Flatbread pizzas and French bread bruschetta bites are another tasty, affordable carb solution to give your guests something tasty to fill up on.
And if you should find yourself catering to vegans and vegetarians along with gluten and dairy-intolerants all in the same meal, make a veggie rice pilaf dish with a very simple sauce on the side and gesture towards it whenever necessary.
If you’re outsourcing liquids, be sure to request a healthy mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. And no need to spend on disposable dishware because it’s wasteful and tacky, and please no paper towels. Nice paper napkins at the very least but preferably cloth napkins you can just throw in the wash afterwards, reuse and recycle over and over. If you don’t have enough cups for cocktails or wine, FINE. Tell your friends to bring their favorite cause you don’t have enough and it’ll be like going camping or to Burning Man! And less wasteful.
Warm up the feel of the place by killing overhead lighting and substituting large candles that can last a long time. (Need candles? Ask a friend to bring some!) And do yourself a favor, especially for for larger salons, ask at least one and perhaps a few friends to help you do the dishes so it’s not a nightmare at the end of the evening. If your friends are worth a damn they’ll probably ask if you need any help, so don’t be afraid to take them up on it. And also don’t be afraid to ask if they don’t offer.
What makes a salon so memorable is the unique company, so focus your energies on guest list alchemy. But you can still make unforgettable food without overspending, read on for more tips on How to Feed Your Salon.