Elegant entertaining… on a budget

In today’s economy, are catered six-course dinner parties doomed to go the way of in-flight meals? As our portfolios continue to shrink, this might be the time to redefine how we entertain.

In today’s economy, are catered six-course dinner parties doomed to go the way of in-flight meals?

As our portfolios continue to shrink, this might be the time to redefine how we entertain. We may not be able to serve a white truffle-bedecked Kobe beef filet with a Mouton Rothschild cabernet, but that doesn’t mean we have to eat frozen dinners alone in front of the TV.

In troubled times, it’s more important than ever to connect with friends and family. So is it possible to entertain without being inappropriately ostentatious … or cheap?

Of course, says caterer Joe Pileggi. There are places to cut, and places not to cut.

“When it comes to food, don’t sacrifice quality,” says Pileggi, of Pileggi’s Imported Foods in Perry Township. “Maybe do a different cut of meat. Instead of the traditional filet mignon, maybe do a high-quality stuffed pork tenderloin.”

Pileggi says other ways to save include trimming the guest list, doing your own centerpiece, forgetting about chair covers, moving the party outdoors, or considering theme parties.

Presentation is key to maintaining elegance and style.

“If you put simple homemade chocolate chip cookies on a gorgeous silver platter, it brings it to a whole new level,” Pileggi says. “Or put homemade vanilla ice cream in a frozen martini glass. Maybe rim the glass with colored sugar. Top it with a little homemade shortbread cookie.”

Wine can add significantly to the price tag of a meal. Alternatives?

“Sangria or other wine punch,” Pileggi suggests.

Other ideas: Martinis, frozen “slush” drinks or homemade beer. The three “Fs” of entertaining are food, friends and flowers. To save on that third “F,” Penny McCarty, floral designer at Dougherty’s Flowers in Louisville, recommends bringing in your own container.

“The container can add a lot to the price. We can put it in a throwaway container, and then they get more flowers,” McCarty says. “If people have vases or baskets to bring in, we can put the flowers in their container. That saves them the cost of buying another vase.”

Another way to be economical is to buy flowers that can be repurposed instead of thrown away.

“If you use plants, then everything you use for the party decorations can do double duty,” McCarty says. “You can use (flowering) bulbs that can be planted out.”

McCarty says they have some plant in bloom no matter what time of year.

“In the winter, we have the cyclamen. In spring, we have the regal geraniums, then gerbera daisies, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils.”

For centerpieces, McCarty puts multiple plants in pots and baskets, or a mix of plants and cut flowers. Don’t be embarrassed about asking florists and caterers for ways to save.

“People are hesitant to ask, ‘Can we do our own family nut torte and you bring the rest?’ Or, ‘Can we bring the meal, but they’ll do the appetizer?’ ” Pileggi says. “We say, by all means. That’s another way they can cut back.”

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass