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Use smaller dishes. For most parties, leave the dinner plates in the cupboard, and use salad or dessert plates instead. Of course, if it's a sit-down dinner, you can use full-size plates.
Plate food instead of serving it buffet style. You can control the portions, which means you can save money and calories. People who serve themselves are more likely to overfill their plates, thus leaving excess food that will go to waste.
Use real dishes. People will be less likely to return for multiple helpings if they see few plates are left. Sure, you might have to wash dishes or run the dishwasher an extra time, but you won't have to buy disposable plates and silverware or create excess waste by throwing them away.
Serve soups in coffee mugs or serve an appetizer of pureed soups in shot glasses or juice glasses.
DIY buffets. Chili bars, taco buffets, DIY pizza parties are all great money-saving party dishes. The basic dishes are cheap, and people can dress up their food as they like.
Instead of a dinner party, invite friends for brunch, coffee in the afternoon or dessert. Having a party at an "off" time means people won't expect a full meal.
Try a progressive dinner party with your neighbors or nearby friends. One family serves appetizers, another serves dinner and a third serves dessert. You can get elaborate and add more courses, too.
Stone soup party: Assign each family or guest an ingredient to bring for a certain dish (ex: beef and vegetable soup, chili or chicken burritos). You provide the main ingredient, but everyone else brings something to accompany it.
Wild card party: If you like to cook, ask friends to bring surprise ingredients. Pair into teams and create dishes based on the ingredients they brought.
Learn to stretch an expensive item. Instead of serving steaks, serve a salad with steak strips, beef stew or stir-fry. Serve shrimp as an appetizer instead of a main dish. Lobsters prices are down right now, due to an excess supply.
Think pasta! Pasta is a great way to feed an army on a budget. You're only limited by your imagination. Ditch plain old spaghetti for a fun shape, like fusilli (twists), pappardelle (wide, long noodles), farfalle (bows), orecchiette (ears), or rigatoni (short, thick and hollow). Swap plain old tomato for a new sauce like clam sauce, pesto, lemon, or arrabiata.