10 Great Ways to Slash the Cost of a Big Party
By Gail Breenberg
First, don't be afraid to spend less. Readers of my book, MitzvahChic, already know that "chic" and "style" do not equal "expensive". Good taste…style…these are timeless and transcend matters of price. The simplest table decoration – if it's rendered with sincerity and a bit of aesthetic charm – is as authentic an expression of "chic" as the most expensive Paris couture.
So, this section should really be called How to Cut Corners and Still Give Everyone a Wonderful Experience. You don't have to compromise quality to save money, and, to prove it, I'm not going to give any silly suggestions like "have your party on a Monday and you'll get a slightly better price from the caterer". That's true. In fact you'll save a fortune because no one will be able to come! How expensive could it be to feed six people?
Here are ten of my favorite ideas for saving money – there are many more in MitzvahChic. Remember, you can always offer to barter in lieu of some cash. Have no professional skills to swap? Offer to do some work for the vendor; ask for a discount off your bill for whatever friends you send his way who actually hire him; give him time in your vacation home. On second thought, if you have a vacation home, why are you reading this?
This material excerpted from MitzvahChic, a bar/bat mitzvah planning book featuring a wealth of party-planning ideas. See the book.
Your Biggest Costs
Food, liquor and music. They're the budget-busters. It's hard to find bargains on music and many hosts don't look for them because the musical leader – be it a DJ or maestro – really runs your party. That's a very important role you may not be comfortable economizing on. But let's look at some great ideas that will save you money.
1. Host a Joint Party
If you're planning a bar/bat mitzvah and faced with having two parties because you want an "adult" party and your child wants a big kid party, consider this. If your child has close friends who share pretty much the same social circle, organize the parents to throw one big party for all the bar/bat mitzvah kids at a fire hall. Then you can afford the best DJ, the best everything. On your child's actual bar/bat mitzvah day, have a modest adult party that includes your child's closest friends.
2. Pick a Hall That Doesn't Have an "Approved Caterer"
Many synagogues and even some churches require you to choose from a list of approved caterers if you want to use their auditorium for your wedding or other event. If your budget is modest and the list doesn't include a vendor who will work within it, you'll be forced to spend more if you want to use that room. Some communities don't have a lot of options, but think creatively and look around – you just need a big room somewhere. If you really want to have your party in your own synagogue or church and there's no budget-friendly option in caterers, organize like-minded congregants to talk to the administrators about adding a caterer who will enthusiastically work with modest budgets. Or perhaps even change the policy to let you bring in your own food. Then you can….
3. Organize Your Own Food
The least expensive caterer I know in my area (Philadelphia) charges a minimum of about $35 a person for a sit-down meal. Imagine how much great takeout food you could buy each person for that! Order trays from all the local restaurants: sushi, Chinese dumplings, gourmet pizza. Hire some college kids and local moms to take care of heating and serving the food.
4. Keep It Simple and, Perhaps, Exotic
Keep the menu simple. Have meatless dishes – you may save a little and you'll please all the vegetarians and people who observe religious restrictions. Have a different (less expensive but still quality) menu for the kids. Serve inexpensive and unusual ethnic foods. It will be a culinary adventure and no one will be able to determine if the food is cheap or not.
5. Let Them Eat Cake
Shop for a cake at your neighborhood bakery, not the local "bakers to the stars". They may have very nice designs but no budget to advertise them. If you're buying a cake, tell the caterer you don't want dessert – it's often served before the cake and the cake then goes uneaten. Best idea of all: buy pretty individual cakes and use them as the centerpieces – the culinary equivalent of "multi-tasking".
6. Buy Co-Op China
This idea is particularly relevant for parents planning a bar/bat mitzvah, as you usually know other parents doing it too. If you're planning to cater your own party, you'll need china, utensils and glassware. These are usually supplied by the caterer and can be costly to rent – if there's even a rental place in your area. Far better: get a group of parents together to buy one big set of china from a restaurant supplier and take turns using it. If you have no suppliers in your area, try www.centralrestaurant.com. Buy extra --- there will be breakage along the way.
7. Buy Your Own Liquor
There are many options in how you handle drinks at your party. You can have a simple wine, juice and soda bar or an expanded version where you have the set-ups and alcohol for the six-ten most popular mixed drinks. You do not need to offer a full-service bar to be considered a good host! Hire your own server. See if the wine vendor delivers, if he includes the use of wineglasses, and if he will allow you to return unopened bottles for a refund.
8. Make Decorations and Party Favors Yourself
Get your friends to help you – you'll have so much fun! Don't worry that they won't then be surprised by the décor when they come to the party. The thrill of an opening night is never diminished for the actors just because they've rehearsed it a zillion times. See the craft ideas on this website.
9. Having Flowers? Arrange Them Yourself
If you have a good eye, buy flowers in bulk and make the arrangements yourself. If you don't have a good eye, get potted flowering plants or get large bunches of one beautiful flower and place them in simple pots. Make simple topiaries by bunching one kind of long-stemmed flower together and tying raffia around the "trunk" of stalks to keep them upright.
10. Make Entertainers Do Double-Duty
If you're hiring entertainment in addition to the music, get someone who will create a giveaway, thereby eliminating the need for a separate party favor. At this writing, some of the hot entertainment/giveaway-producing ideas are the cast-wax hand sculptures; photo-booth buttons, magnets and magazine covers; or a tape of the guest singing karaoke.
MitzvahChic is the #1 bar/bat mitzvah planning book and website! Visit http://www.MitzvahChic.com and be sure to sign up for FREE planning reminder emails.
About the Author
Gail Anthony Greenberg is a lifelong writer, editor and crafts artist. Born in a small town, into a family with no Jewish identity, she saw her first bagel when she attended college in Boston. It's a good thing, though, because if she had grown up attending a bar or bat mitzvah every weekend, she would never have asked the questions or formulated the approach known as MitzvahChic.
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